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As hiking is becoming more popular as a sport, hiking GPS watches have been in the making by several manufacturers. However, not all hiking GPS watches are made equal. In fact, many GPS watches that are advertised on major online stores are not even made for hiking. Most of them are only useful for fitness tracking such as with distance and speed.
Here, we have compiled a list of the most popular hiking GPS watches being sold in popular markets today. Unlike regular GPS watches, hiking watches have certain basic features in common:
Barometer: Barometers measure the air pressure so that you can tell if there is a good chance of inclement weather approaching. By being able to detect weather changes, you can set up shelter arrangements appropriately or keep yourself out of danger. For example, if you know that a low pressure weather system is approaching, it may be a good idea to set up a rainfly on your tent ahead of time.
Altimeter: Altimeters can be used in order to help you find your way around when you are at elevated altitudes. For example, you may have a map and compass, but if a map calls for a location that is a certain distance from the ocean, you will not know where you are unless you have an altimeter.
Thermometer: Your sense of what the temperature is at any given time is affected by your level of activity. This is why it’s important to know the right temperature of your environment at any given time. In cases where it is abnormally cold, you may not notice yourself getting hypothermia.
Compass: Last but not least, it is imperative to have a compass on your person at all times when you are on a hiking trip. Your phone’s GPS signal is dependent on whether you receive data at your location. Moreover, your phone’s battery will not keep charge forever. The fact that a compass seems very analog in this day in age should not deter you from carrying one around, as it is even more useful than a cell phone in the great outdoors.
How a GPS watch works
GPS stands for ‘global positioning system’. In order to make it work, there are 31 GPS satellites that orbit the Earth and are synchronized to send out signals simultaneously. Using these signals, mobile devices can track your position. The mobile device can calculate altitude, longitude and latitude, as well as the speed at which you are travelling with a margin of error of just a few meters.
A GPS watch works much in the same way as a car GPS. It will track your position almost anywhere in the world. However, it does have a few advantages over a regular car GPS.
Benefits of a hiking GPS watch
Apart from its main function of tracking your location in the world, a good hiking GPS watch will also help you keep track of your fitness goals. Here are some examples of statistics that you can track while on workout session:
Speed: Due to the fact that a hiking watch captures GPS signals, it can also track your speed of movement from one location to the next.
Distance: It also seems fair that a GPS watch will be able to track your distance from a particular location to your goal destination.
Fitness tracker: The hiking GPS watches featured in this review all have different ways of tracking fitness goals. Some connect to an outside program, while others have a built-in fitness calculator that you can used to compare your fitness activities with your friends .
Our Top 4
Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch
The Garmin Fenix 3 GPS watch is currently one of the most popular hiking GPS watches available. Although it is a bit on the pricey side, it includes more features than a regular hiking GPS watch.
The Fenix 3 has a chroma display that allows you to view its screen even in broad daylight. The Garmin Fenix 3 has wireless connectivity and you can connect it to a Wi-Fi hotspot to sync it with the Garmin Connect program. This will allow you to update its software.
GLONASS + GPS: One of the distinguishing features of the Fenix 3 GPS watch is the fact that it is capable of picking up GLONASS signals as well as GPS. This means that location tracking will be more accurate.
Battery life: The Fenix 3 has excellent battery life. In watch mode, it will last about six weeks and in GPS mode, about 20 hours. It comes with a rechargeable lithuim ion battery.
Stainless steel bezel: For extra durability, the Fenix 3 is housed by a stainless steel vessel that is reinforced to withstand extreme conditions.
GPS track log: The GPS track log allows you to create routes and checkpoints as you travel. You can share these routes with your family and friends wirelessly via Bluetooth and ANT+
What is GLONASS + GPS?
GLONASS is a selection of at least 24 satellites that orbit the Earth. They were launched by the Soviet Union in 1976. GLONASS works in very much the same way as DPS satellites. However, when used in conjunction with GPS, signals are more accurate.That being said, GLONASS alone does not cover as much terrain as GPS satellites. That is why GLONASS is used in conjunction with GPS.
Garmin Foretrex 401 Hiking GPS Watch
The Foretrex 401 is less expensive than the Fenix 3, but still fulfills all of the requirements of a good hiking GPS watch. In fact, it is one of the most popular hiking GPS watches available today. As you can see from the image, it has a camouflaged military look. This is a throwback to the fact that GPS watches used to be purely for military use.
HotFix receiver: One of the things that sets the Forefrex 401 apart from the other hiking GPS watches is the fact that it has a high sensitivity GPS receiver that uses HotFix. This means that you can track your location even under heavy trees. The wrist strap style is also reminiscent of a military watch.
Hunting/fishing information: Unlike other hiking GPS watches, this military style watch displays hunting and fishing information.
TracBack: Do you get lost frequently on your hiking trips? You can now retrace your steps after a long walk with the Foretrex 401 TracBack feature. TracBack displays a dotted line retracing the path that you have taken.
Save waypoints: You can save a particular location along the dotted trail line. For example, your vehicle or campsite location can be saved so that you can easily go back to it.
The Foretrex 401 only costs a quarter of the price of the Fenix 3. If you are interested in tracking your fitness goals, the Foretrex 401 may not be suitable. This is purely a hiking GPS watch.
Casio PAG240 – 1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch
Solar Powered: The Casio Pathfinder is different from the others reviewed on this page because it is a solar powered watch. This means that you will not need to recharge your battery as it will keep running long after you have been out of the sunlight. In fact, it will hold 6 months of charge without being exposed to further light.
The Casio Pathfinder has approximately the same price point as the Foretrex 401. Apart from its snazzy look, the Pathfinder does not have quite as many features as the Fortrex. Although its main appeal is that it is solar powered, it does have all of the design features common in a highly functional hiking GPS watch.
Resin band: One of the great features of the Pathfinder is its resin wristband, complete with a buckle closure. This will come in handy during those long treks into the wilderness where many watches would slip off the arm. This one will stay firmly in place.
Sunrise/sunset data: If you will be traveling for a few days in an outdoor setting, knowing when the sunrise and a sunset begins will be important. You will need to know when to set up your tent or when to take it down and store away any of your gear. You can set the Pathfinder to any of the 48 city world times that are pre-programmed into the watch. Based on your location, the Pathfinder will display the correct time without you needing to reset for a specific time zone.
Overall, the Pathfinder has all the functionality of a hiking GPS watch with the added functionality of a solar powered device. It has an altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and a compass. A solar powered device is one of the safest ways that you can travel off the grid as it will never be out of charge.
Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator
The Garmin tactix is very similar to the Fenix 3. It has many of the same design features, but it has a price point that is almost halfway lower than the Fenix 3.
Non-reflective and backlit screen: Apart from the sheer and stylish design, the screen on the Tactix GPS watch is non-reflective to prevent glare from the sun. At night, you will not need a flashlight to use screen as it has green LED backlight. As an added bonus, the screen is also scratch resistant.
Battery life: In GPS mod, the Garmin Tactix will hold up to 50 hours of battery charge. When it is only in watch mode, it will hold up for 5 weeks depending on the settings.
TracBack: The Tactix uses Garmin’s TracBack program to keep a history of the routes that you have taken over the course of your trek. You can mark your own locations such as where you left your vehicle and return to the save spots you have set. The Garmin Tactix will show a line that indicates the path that you have taken which you can use to trace back your steps.
Fitness tracker: Much like the Fenix 3 hiking GPS watch, the Garmin Tactix also has fitness tracking capabilities. Whether you are hiking, running, cycling, or swimming, you can keep track of your speed and distance. If you have an external heart sensor, you can attach it to the Tactix so that it calculates your fitness level and helps you set your fitness goals.
Need more fitness tracking?
Not all hiking GPS watches have fitness tracking as a feature. Conversely, not all running GPS watches can track your hiking routes. That is why we have chosen to list the below GPS watches separately. These watches are better suited for those who seek to monitor their fitness progress and reach their fitness goals.
The best fitness GPS watches have the following basic features in common:
Distance tracking: GPS watches will track how many miles you have traveled and let you know when you reach a milestone. By using its built in GPS tracking system, a GPS watch can let you know once you have achieved a particular distance milestone.
Progress tracking: A good running GPS watch will keep track of your running history. If you managed to achieve a greater distance or speed on a run than the other saved run sessions, it will increase your motivation by letting you know.
Calorie counting: Any good GPS watch will keep track of the calories that you have burned. This comes in very handy when you are trying to lose weight, or just trying to gage how much energy you have spent in a particular session.
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Outdoor Watch + Heart Rate Monitor
The Ambit3 Peak outdoor watch comes with a heart rate monitor that hooks up to the watch so that it can track your fitness goals. The other hiking GPS watches featured on this page have the ability to hook up to external heart rate monitors as well but they do not come with it included.
The Ambit3 is different from the other hiking GPS watches featured here because it is not as focused on hiking routes as it is on fitness tracking. That being said, if you will be doing a lot of sports during your outdoor excursions, this one is heavy on the fitness tracking features.
Sleek design: The Ambit3 Peak watch comes with a sleek and simple design. There are no gimmicky contours and edges.
Suunto sports apps: Suunto is the maker of thousands of sports tracking apps that you can connect to with the Ambit3. Once your workout statistics have been collected after an activity, you can send them to any of these apps for performance analysis. You can subsequently send your reports to the movescount.com online community to share this with others and find extra motivation for your fitness goals.
Battery life: When the Ambit3 is in watch mode, the lithium-ion battery charge lasts for 30 days. When the GPS is active, the charge will last for 50 hours.
Highly durable: The Ambit3 comes with a scratch-resistant sapphire glass on top of the watch’s screen.
Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS Watch
The Garmin Forerunner 10 is currently one of the most popular GPS watches available today. Not only does it have very positive reviews, it also comes at a very affordable price.
With this hiking GPS watch, you can track your distance, speed, and calories burned. Moreover, you can track your progress against your target goals. Once you reach your target, it will let you know.
The Garmin Forerunner will keep track of your 7 previous run sessions and show you a summary of each one.
In case you need to stop your run for a bit, you can pause the tracker and resume at a later time. No more innacurate readings from stopping at a crosswalk!
Customers have said that they like this watch for the fact that it’s very light, works like a charm, and is very affordable.
Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch
The Fitbit Blaze is a higher end GPS watch than the Garmin Forerunner 10. It includes a much more complex feature set that allows for integrated fitness tracking across various sports.
Above and beyond tracking your distance/speed/calories, the Fitbit Blaze tracks the following:
Heartbeats: The Blaze has a sensor in the back of the watch that continuously monitors your heartbeat. No need to set it up to do so, as it will do this constantly.
Workout intensity: Since the Blaze can monitor heartbeats, it also tracks your workout intensity using simple heart rate zones.
Multi-sport tracking: Whether you are running, biking, or doing cross fit, this watch does it all. It will monitor your progress in a slightly different way depending on the type of activity you are doing.
Map your routes: By using your phone, you can connect to the Blaze’s GPS system to track your routes.
Get instructions for specific workouts: The Blaze can give you instructions on how to do specific workouts, complete with graphics!
One of the perks of this watch is that you get a bright, colorful screen. You can also set the screen to display whichever statistic you’d like without needing to switch between settings. You get what you pay for with this watch, and you can see the quality shining through with every use.
Garmin Forerunner 220 GPS Watch
The Garmin Forerunner 220 includes many more features than the Garmin Forerunner 10. It includes your own personal digital coach that can track your progress and give you fitness goals to accomplish. You can also share your running sessions on social media using the mapping features.
Here are just a few of the Garmin Forerunner 220’s best features:
Track your pace even when indoors: If you happen to be outside and lose GPS signal, the Forerunner 220 is still capable of keeping track of your distance and speed. Another benefit to its unique tracking system is that you no longer need to be outdoors with a GPS signal to track your progress. You can be indoor on a treadmill!
Compatible with Garmin Connect for coaching: You can login to the Garmin Connect system and send fitness schedules of your choice to your Forerunner watch. The Forerunner will provide real-time coaching as you achieve your fitness goals.
Fitness goal alerts: You can set up alerts based on run/walk intervals, pace, and heart rate. The Forerunner 220 vibrates and/or beeps when you have achieved a goal. You can set it to track your fastest or longest runs. Once you are done a run session, the Forerunner 220 will show you a post-run summary.
Map your treks: You can connect the Forerunner to the Garmin Connect system to create a route map of the places you’ve been. It will show this on a map, which you can share with your friends on social media.