Getting your hands dirty and slumming it in the backcountry is fun. Getting lost at any point in the wilderness, on the other hand, not so much. That’s why GPS watches have become indispensable tools for many people looking to enjoy the outdoors. Beyond the basic activity tracking functions, these wearables can really prove indispensable for navigating woodlands, mountain trails, and all sorts of rugged terrain.
There are many kinds of GPS watches. For hiking, camping, and other outdoor pursuits, your best bet is to get a GPS watch that also has an ABC sensor. In this case, ABC stands for altimeter, barometer, and compass, three of the most useful sensors for gathering essential information in the wild. The combination of GPS and ABC sensors means your watch comes with all sorts of critical functions that can help you find your way through those mountain paths, from showing your current altitude and keeping track of the distance you’ve traveled to forecasting weather and planning hiking paths, among a whole host of things. Suffice to say, they’re arguably the most valuable tools you can have in the trail.
These are the best GPS watches for your outdoor adventures.
Coros Apex 2 Pro
We love the aesthetic of Coros’ mid-range GPS watch, which looks a lot more suited for everyday wear than the typical tactical looks of adventure watches. Despite the sleeker styling, it is quite the feature-packed wearable that houses both ABC and GPS sensors, with a selection of features aimed towards mountain athletics, making it great for people who want to track their performance across different outdoor acitivities. The GPS can receive signals from all five major satellite systems, complete with dual-frequency support, all while coming with preloaded global maps and downloadable topographical maps to aid you in navigation. There are not as many features as Garmin’s GPS watches, although it does cover all the core functionality you’ll need for training and backcountry exploration alike. Plus, they offer some storage for music, which is very useful when you want to keep a small playlist on hand. We’re particularly fond of the wearable’s control scheme, which allows you to either use the touchscreen or the physical controls (rotating crown and buttons) on the side.
While the massive 50mm size may not be for everyone, this is easily one of the best options in the category, especially with the solar charging able to keep it running for much longer periods than standard GPS watches. In GPS mode, for instance, it can run for 145 hours; it can even go 36 hours with all satellite systems and multi-band channels running, allowing you to switch on every available function and still last a full day and a half without having to plug in.
Beyond the battery life, the watch gets all essential ABC and GPS functions, from point-to-point navigation and real-time bread crumb trails to calculating distance and storm alerts to total ascent and plotting future elevations to a whole lot more. On top of that, you get Garmin’s full complement of sport and activity tracking that run the gamut, from running and swimming to weights training and golf. In case the watch is a tad too big, there are also the smaller Instinct 2 and Instinct 2S, although this model uses a more powerful solar lens that’s responsible for all that extra battery life.
Polar’s 47mm GPS watch brings robust navigation functions, including turn-by-turn guidance, trackback, distance data, and visual profiles for routes and elevations. There’s no onboard mapping, but you can plan your route in the komoot app and sync it to your watch. Yes, you’ll have to use a commercial app, although you do get maps for your home region and one more region for free, although the rest will require extra costs. It has ABC sensors, too, so you can use barometric and compass data if you need to switch off the GPS to save power. Speaking of power, it’s rated to run up to 40 hours with full GPS and heart rate tracking, so you can get plenty of activity time in the trail between charges. It has over 130 sport profiles, too, so there’s a good chance there’s a preset tracking setting for any activity you have in mind.
We love the more compact 43mm size of this model, making it a great option for people who find larger GPS watches a bit too much. It’s got all the usual GPS and ABC sensor functions, so you get navigation tools (visual routes, breadcrumb trails, and more), altitude tools (total ascent/descent, vertical speed, and more), and weather forecasting. Do note, mapping isn’t supported directly from the watch. Instead, you’ll have to with the maps via the companion app, then move the planned routes to the watch to get visual directions. For training, it comes with 95 preset sport modes, including a variety of outdoor athletics, complete with over four dozen parameters that you can customize for your personalized performance metrics. Other features include onboard music storage, a battery rated for up to 40 hours in GPS mode, and fast charging function that gives it 10 hours’ worth of charge in 10 minutes of charging.
While best known for their affordable Pace 2 GPS watch, Coros also has a more expensive model geared towards outdoor adventure. It comes with GPS and ABC sensors, complete with support for all five major satellite systems, so you can dial in your location anywhere you are in the world. Simultaneous communication with all five systems is supported, too, which allows for unbridled accuracy. The watch comes with preloaded global maps, downloadable topographical maps, and even hybrid maps, allowing you to see the lay of the land, so you can plan your navigation without any unpleasant surprises. Sadly, there’s no turn-by-turn navigation, so you’ll have to manually figure out your path from the map, although it does offer checkpoint, back-to-start, and deviation alert functions, among other navigation features. It has training profiles geared towards outdoor activities, such as trail running, mountain climbing, open water swimming, snowboarding, windsurfing, and more. We also like the large 1.4-inch screen, which allows it to display up to eight data fields at a time. Much as we want to love this GPS watch, the price puts it at the Fenix 7 territory and while the hardware can stand toe-to-toe with Garmin’s adventure wearable, the latter just has too many software features that aren’t quite available here, making it a pretty hard sell when considering the alternative.
As good as the Instinct 2 line is as far as GPS watches go, at its core, it’s still mainly a sports watch with outdoor-friendly features. If you want something that’s just absolutely lasered in towards backcountry activities, the 7th generation Fenix might be more along your style. It gets all the essential multi-GNSS and ABC functions, much like the Instinct 2X, but goes one step further with full outdoor maps that include satellite imagery and enhanced topo layouts, full map guides, and an extensive assortment of navigation tools. They also incorporated profiles for popular outdoor activities, such as backcountry trail running, bouldering, and more, complete with a system that helps you adjust your pace over varying terrains. Is it overkill for a GPS watch? A bit. But if you’re looking the most feature-packed wearable you can take to the trail, few offer this much in available functions. We opted to go with the Solar version for this, as it can help get you an extra 16 hours on top of the 57-hour rating when used in GPS mode.