Best GPS Watches for Hiking in 2021

Last Updated: January 2021

Finding the right GPS watch for you isn’t as easy as it might seem. To help you out, we created this guide to the best GPS watches for hiking.


Quick Recommendations


Best Overall GPS Watch: 

Best GPS Watches Under $200: 

Best GPS Watches $200-$500:

Best GPS Watches $500+:


GPS watches are nifty pieces of gear for tech-minded hikers. They can help to track your trail stats and fitness levels, all while providing you with critical information to help you navigate through challenging terrain.

Finding the right GPS watch, however, isn’t as easy as it might seem. These watches are loaded with high-end technology, so it can be tricky to decipher which one is best for your needs.

To get you started on the right path, we created this guide to the best GPS watches for hiking.

Up next, we’ll review 7 of the top models on the market today, and we’ll even offer some guidance on choosing the right watch for your upcoming adventures.


Best Overall GPS Watch for Hiking

The Coros Apex Premium is a top-of-the-line GPS watch with a budget-friendly price tag. It combines an astonishing collection of features with mountain-specific functions that make it a great all-around choice for hikers and mountaineers alike. Keep Reading >


Best Budget (Under $200) GPS Watches

Garmin Forerunner 45S

The Garmin Forerunner 45S is an affordable hiking and running GPS watch for outdoor enthusiasts that love to keep track of their health and fitness stats. It is lightweight and nestled into a sleek housing that looks as good as it functions. Keep Reading >

Coros Pace Multisport GPS Watch

For budget-conscious hikers that are more concerned with health stats and route tracking, the Coros Pace is a solid choice. This user-friendly watch provides a lot of functionality without adding in complex technology. Keep reading >


Best Mid-Range ($200-$500) GPS Watches

Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR is a GPS watch for hikers that prioritize navigation and functionality over fitness stats. It features a burly housing made from steel, mineral crystal glass, and an elastomer strap for extra ruggedness. Keep reading >

Garmin Instinct

Rugged and resilient, the Garmin Instinct is a GPS watch built to handle any trail. This watch has a fiber-reinforced polymer bezel and case with chemically strengthened glass for extra durability. Keep reading >


Best High-End ($500+) GPS Watches

Garmin Forerunner 945

When fitness stats and functionality are your top priorities, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is hard to beat. This high-tech GPS watch includes pretty much any feature you can think of when it comes to tracking your fitness and stats. Keep reading >

Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire

With everything you need and want, and some extra features thrown in on top, the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire is one of the most technology-packed GPS watches on the market. Keep Reading >


Hiking GPS Watch Full Reviews

Best Overall GPS Watch for Hiking

The Coros Apex Premium is a top-of-the-line GPS watch with a budget-friendly price tag. It combines an astonishing collection of features with mountain-specific functions that make it a great all-around choice for hikers and mountaineers alike.


Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $299.99
  • Water Resistance: 328ft (100m)
  • Weight: 1.95oz (55.3g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU
  • Topo Maps: Yes

The Good:

  • Incredibly long battery life for a GPS watch
  • Durable construction
  • Full slew of smartwatch functions and smartphone compatibility

The Bad:

  • No desktop platform for accessing stats and data

Where the Coros Apex Premium blows away the competition is in terms of battery life. While many GPS watches last only a day or two on a single charge, the Coros Apex Premium can run for up to 30 days in regular mode and for up to 35 hours in GPS mode.

It is also waterproof up to 328ft (100m) and features robust sapphire glass that’s scratch-resistant. The watch is encased within a titanium alloy bezel, which provides weight savings and durability.

As far as features go, the Coros Apex Premium is no slouch. It can track all the standard fitness stats, including heart rate, which sync with your smartphone app at the end of your hike.

Navigation-wise, the watch uses GPS, GLONASS, and BEIDOU systems as well as a built-in altimeter and barometer to help you stay on the right track.

You can download route information before your hike or set up bread crumb trail tracking with navigation alerts so you can always stay found.


Best Budget GPS Watch

The Garmin Forerunner 45S is an affordable hiking and running GPS watch for outdoor enthusiasts that love to keep track of their health and fitness stats. It is lightweight and nestled into a sleek housing that looks as good as it functions.

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $199.99
  • Water Resistance: 164ft (50m)
  • Weight: 1.1oz (32g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
  • Topo Maps: No

The Good:

  • Small and lightweight housing for added comfort
  • Silicone strap is soft against the skin
  • Tracks all essential health and fitness stats

The Bad:

  • Short battery life on GPS mode

This touch-screen smartwatch has chemically-strengthened glass for added durability. It also has a silicone strap that provides next-to-skin comfort and reduced chafing, even in humid conditions.

The Forerunner 45S features a built-in GPS unit that provides real-time data for navigation and fitness tracking. Additionally, the watch has built-in safety and tracking features that allow you to send your location to emergency contacts if an incident occurs.

For fitness gurus, the Forerunner 45S also keeps track of your various health stats, including heart rate, estimated VO2 max, and calories. You can even choose to download workouts and training plans for when you can’t get out into the mountains.


Best Budget GPS Watch

For budget-conscious hikers that are more concerned with health stats and route tracking, the Coros Pace is a solid choice. This user-friendly watch provides a lot of functionality without adding in complex technology.

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $199.99
  • Water Resistance: 164ft (50m)
  • Weight: 1.7oz (48g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, BDS
  • Topo Maps: No

The Good:

  • Great value for the money
  • Up to 30 days of battery life in standard mode
  • Built-in optical heart rate monitoring system

The Bad:

  • No downloadable topo maps

When it comes to budget-friendly watches, the Pace is among the lightest in its class. It has a comfortable silicone band that reduces chafing, as well as aluminosilicate glass for added durability.

This watch has a built-in gyroscope and compass, as well as a barometric altimeter and accelerometer. It connects with GPS, GLONASS, and BDS navigation systems to track hiking routes. However, it doesn’t offer the option to download topo maps.

Plus, like all Coros watches, the Pace offers an industry-leading 30 days of battery life on a single charge. This makes it an excellent choice for hikers that spend a lot of time on longer trips where frequently charging your watch is out of the question.


Best Mid-Range GPS Watch

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR is a GPS watch for hikers that prioritize navigation and functionality over fitness stats. It features a burly housing made from steel, mineral crystal glass, and an elastomer strap for extra ruggedness.

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $449.00
  • Water Resistance: 328ft (100m)
  • Weight: 3.14oz (89g)
  • Navigation System: GPS
  • Topo Maps: Yes

The Good:

  • Fully customizable GPS navigation features, including coordinate systems
  • Offers waypoint and visual route navigation options
  • Includes functions for analyzing weather patterns and offering storm warnings

The Bad:

  • Fairly heavy and bulky
  • Uses only a GPS for navigation

When it comes to navigation, the Ambit3 Peak HR offers a fully-functional GPS at your fingertips. Although it uses only GPS satellites, the watch can be adjusted to a variety of different coordinate systems for global use. It can track up to 1000 route points and provides you with real-time altitude profiles during your hike.

One of the other significant benefits of this watch is its weather tracking system. The Ambit3 Peak HR has a built-in barometer that tracks sea level pressure and offers storm alarms should the temperature drop substantially. It can even record the weather and display weather trends, as well as temperature, tide information, and sunrise/sunset times.

While it doesn’t offer as many training-specific features as some other models, the Ambit3 Peak HR does offer stats tracking to help you monitor your exertion levels on your hike.


Best Mid-Range GPS Watch

Rugged and resilient, the Garmin Instinct is a GPS watch built to handle any trail. This watch has a fiber-reinforced polymer bezel and case with chemically strengthened glass for extra durability. It’s even built to US military standards for durability and is water-resistant up to 328ft (100m).

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $299.99
  • Water Resistance: 328ft (100m)
  • Weight: 1.8oz (52g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
  • Topo Maps: Yes

The Good:

  • Super durable housing built to military standards
  • Fully-functional GPS for navigation
  • Pairs with a smartphone for messaging and notifications

The Bad:

  • Relatively short battery life in GPS mode

When it comes to navigation, the Garmin Instinct syncs with GPS, GLONASS, and GALILEO systems to provide you with accurate GPS coordinates. It offers point-to-point navigation as well as real-time bread crumb trail tracking to help you find your way. 

The watch can provide an elevation profile as well as information about your total ascent and descent. For added functionality, it can be paired with Garmin’s Basecamp platform so you can create routes and hiking plans before you leave home.

The Instinct also pairs seamlessly with a smartphone for answering messages and checking notifications. You can even track your health and fitness stats in real-time and switch the watch to various outdoor recreation profiles for hiking, climbing, kayaking, and even skiing for added versatility.


Best High-End GPS Watch

When fitness stats and functionality are your top priorities, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is hard to beat.

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $599.99
  • Water Resistance: 164ft (50m)
  • Weight: 1.8oz (50g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
  • Topo Maps: Yes

The Good:

  • Great selection of fitness stats tracking, including a pulse oximeter
  • Highly durable materials such as Corning Gorilla Glass
  • Stores up to 200 hours of activity data

The Bad:

  • Low battery life in GPS mode

This high-tech GPS watch includes pretty much any feature you can think of when it comes to tracking your fitness and stats.

Highlights include heart rate, running dynamics, VO2 max estimations, training load, and a pulse oximeter. It also functions as a smartwatch, with Garmin Pay compatibility, Spotify music controls, and smart notifications.

For tracking your run and helping you navigate, the Forerunner 945 offers full-color mapping, GPS coordinates, and bread crumb trails. If you’re running or biking in town, the watch provides turn-by-turn navigation. 

Backcountry users can also take advantage of the watch’s point-to-point navigation features, elevation profiles, and ascent planning software. It can also be synced with the Basecamp platform and preloaded with topographical maps for added convenience in the mountains.


Best High-End GPS Watch

With everything you need and want, and some extra features thrown in on top, the Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire is one of the most technology-packed GPS watches on the market. 

Important Specs:

  • MSRP: $799.99
  • Water Resistance:
  • Weight: 2.9oz (83g)
  • Navigation System: GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
  • Topo Maps: Yes

The Good:

  • Complete list of fitness stats tracking
  • Fully-functional GPS
  • Low-energy expedition mode that maintains GPS functionality

The Bad:

  • Expensive

The Fenix 6 Sapphire comes packed in an ultra-durable titanium or steel bezel with a Sapphire Crystal glass that is designed to withstand years of use.

It can track nearly any statistic you can think of, including heart rate and sleep. Additionally, the Fenix 6 Sapphire is one of the few watches available that has a built-in pulse oximeter for better oxygen tracking at high elevations.

The watch is also one of the most advanced when it comes to outdoor recreation functionality. It can accurately track hiking, skiing, mountain biking, surfing, and climbing activity. Then, it automatically shows you stats that are relevant to your favorite pursuits.

This watch has a whole host of different GPS features, including downloadable topographic maps, barometric weather monitoring, and electronic compass, and waypoint marking. Plus, the Fenix 6 Sapphire even has an expedition mode, which uses low-energy while still maintaining GPS functionality without draining your battery.


GPS Watch Comparison Table


Name

MSRP

Navigation

Rating

$299.99

 GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU

$199.99

GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO

$199.99

GPS, GLONASS, BDS

$449.00

GPS

$299.99

GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO

$599.99

GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO

$799.99

GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO


GPS watch hiking mountain

GPS Watch Buying Guide

GPS watches are so full of features; it’s easy to be overwhelmed during the shopping process.

To help you out, we’ve created this buyer’s guide with all the information you need to choose the best GPS hiking watch for your needs.

Features of GPS Watches

Here are some of the key features to look for when buying a GPS watch:

Altimeter/Barometer

A barometer is a device that measures pressure, which is an essential tool if you want to be able to track weather patterns and predict oncoming storms. Most GPS watches also feature altimeters that use pressure readings from barometers to determine your elevation along a hike.

Compass

Although you probably hike with a compass, an electronic compass on your watch can be very useful. Having one of these compasses can save you time when you quickly need to take a rough bearing while traveling off-trail.

GPS

The defining feature of a GPS watch is, well, its GPS, so it’s vital that whatever model you buy comes stocked with navigation tools. That being said, while some models have the ability to mark waypoints and track your trail, others are mostly used to track your GPS position throughout your hike so your route can be downloaded later.

If you’re looking to use your watch as your primary navigation tool (with a map and compass as a back-up, of course), a fully-functional GPS is a priority. Otherwise, GPS tracking watches are generally lighter and more affordable.

Thermometer

Knowing the temperature is important for tracking weather trends, especially in alpine environments. Many watches now come with built-in thermometers for this purpose.

But, keep in mind that your body heat can skew the temperature readings, so take the watch off and place it on the ground for a few minutes for a more accurate reading.

Heart Rate Monitor

Heart Rate Monitors are considered the gold standard when it comes to fitness tracking. The vast majority of GPS watches are now built with HR monitors as a standard feature. Others also offer additional fitness tracking systems, such as pulse oximeters.

WiFi

Traditionally, GPS watches needed to be synced with a smartphone using Bluetooth to download your hiking data. Nowadays, some high-end watches are WiFi compatible, allowing you to sync your data directly to a tracking platform without the need for a smartphone to act as the middleman.

GPS watch hiking

Differences & Added Features For Each Price Range

GPS watches are available at a wide range of different price points. Here’s what you can expect when you buy a model at a given price range:

Budget: Under $200

Most GPS watches that are under $200 offer only the most standard features. They generally provide all the fitness tracking statistics that you’d find on a standard smartwatch, including heart rate. 

As far as GPS functionality goes, these watches stick to just the basics. For the most part, they don’t offer a lot in the way of route planning and waypoint marking, but they can be used to download your GPS track at the end of a hike.

Mid-Range: $200-$500

Once you get into the $200-$500 range, GPS watches offer more in terms of navigation. In general, they will offer route tracking, waypoint marking, and downloadable topographic maps.

They usually have all of the basic fitness tracking features, too, as well as limited functionality as a smartwatch. Much of what you pay for when you get a mid-range watch is a powerful GPS rather than a lot of other fancy bells and whistles.

High-End: $500+

High-end hiking watches combine a fully-featured GPS with all of the fitness tracking stats you could ever hope for. They will usually track everything from heart rate to sleep and often include a pulse oximeter.

Many can also function as a smartwatch, allowing you to connect with Spotify for music and make contactless payments. Additionally, some will provide turn-by-turn directions if you’re walking or biking in an urban location.

Considerations When Buying A GPS Watch

These are some of the most important things to keep in mind when buying a GPS watch for hiking:

Battery Life

If you spend a lot of time in remote environments, having a GPS watch that you don’t have to charge all the time is ideal. Unfortunately, GPS functions usually drain batteries pretty quickly, so it’s essential to consider how much you plan to use navigation features while you hike.

Water Resistance

The vast majority of GPS watches come with some level of water-resistance. Since these watches feature high-end technology, you don’t want to risk breaking them in a rainstorm. So, some semblance of waterproofing is key.

Durability

The last thing you want is to spend your hard-earned money on a GPS watch, only to have it break after a few hikes. Durability in a hiking watch comes down to the quality of the glass used in the casing and the type of metal used in the bezel.

Steel and titanium are robust metals that are rugged enough for frequent mountain use. Titanium is lighter than steel but is usually more expensive.

As far as glass goes, watch companies use a wide range of different glasses to make their products. Look for one that’s reinforced or chemically strengthened, such as sapphire glass or gorilla glass, for added durability.

Style

Style is a matter of personal preference when it comes to watches. In general, you can choose between models that have a sleek smartwatch-esque design and those that have a more rugged appearance. The smartwatch-style models tend to be more affordable, but slightly less durable.

Weight

In the world of hiking, lighter gear is usually preferred. Thankfully, most GPS watches weigh in between 1-3oz, so none are outrageously heavy.

Keep in mind, though, that GPS watches are naturally heavier than fashion watches because they have so much technology watches. So, your next GPS watch might feel heavier than you’re used to.

It’s also worth remembering that bigger, bulkier watches, while heavier, are generally more durable than their lightweight counterparts. So, it’s a delicate balance between weight and durability with this kind of gear.

GPS watch hiking

Key Takeaways

GPS watches can help to track your trail stats and fitness levels, all while providing you with critical information to help you navigate through challenging terrain. However, finding the right GPS watch isn’t as easy as it might seem. 

Make sure you understand the different features, determine your budget, and then select one of the best GPS watches for hiking from our list.

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