A decade ago, a fitness tracker for hiking was so basic that buying one hardly needed any research or guidance. But today, the market is flooded with sophisticated fitness trackers and feature-rich GPS watches that will leave you both convinced and confused about their usefulness. So how then do you deal with this overwhelm and decide which is the best hiking fitness tracker or the best hiking watch is for you?
So in this post, I am going to try and simplify this topic for you by giving you a complete lowdown on the best hiking fitness trackers as well as the best GPS watches.
Disclaimer: I haven’t owned all of the watches on this list. I previously had a Fitbit, then I had an Apple Watch and now I’m upgrading to the Garmin Vivoactive. This is all of the research I did in making my decision. I hope it helps you make yours!
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Top Pick: Best Hiking Fitness Tracker & Best Hiking Fitness Watch
In my opinion, the best fitness tracker for hiking is the Garmin Vivoactive. It comes at an affordable price point, has a good battery life and features hiking-compatible features. This is what I’m upgrading to (once I can sell my Apple Watch).
Read the detailed review below to find out more.
Top Recommendations: Best GPS Watch for Hiking & Best Hiking Fitness Watch
In addition to my top pick mentioned above, I am a fan of several other watches reviewed below for their performance in specific departments.
Best GPS hiking watch for battery-life: Garmin Enduro
Best daily wear watch with hiking compatibility: Apple Watch
Best budget GPS hiking watch: Tomtom Adventurer
Comparison Chart: Best GPS Watches for Hiking / Fitness Tracker
In this section, you can check all fitness trackers’ key features and specifications, and the best GPS watches for hiking are included in the review section below. Going through this chart will help you quickly identify the best GPS hiking watch for you.
|Name||Weight (g)||Max. Battery Life||GPS||Wifi||Price Range||Latest Price|
|Fitbit Charge 4||26||7 days||Yes||No||$||Check|
|Fitbit Versa||38||6 days||With phone||Yes||$||Check|
|Garmin Vivoactive||48||8 days||Yes||Yes||$$||Check|
|Tomtom Adventurer||55||3 weeks||Yes||Yes||$$||Check|
|Apple Watch||47||2 days||Yes||yes||$$$||Check|
|Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR||74||14 days||Yes||Yes||$$$||Check|
|Garmin Instinct Solar||54||56 days||Yes||Yes||$$$||Check|
|Garmin Enduro||71||95 days||Yes||No||$$$$||Check|
|Suunto Traverse Alpha||75||14 days||Yes||Yes||$$$||Check|
|Garmin Forerunner 245 Music GPS Watch||38||7 days||Yes||Yes||$$||Check|
|Suunto 9 Baro GPS Watch||81||14 days||Yes||No||$$$||Check|
|Polar Vantage M GPS Watch||45||5 days||Yes||No||280||Check|
Best Fitness Tracker and GPS Watch for hiking – Reviews
In this section, I will review some of the top fitness trackers for hiking, and the best GPS hiking watches 2021. Bear in mind that I am not a tech blogger, and hence the reviews are written purely from a hiking or outdoor use perspective.
The Fitbit Charge 4 is an excellent choice for those that want a single fitness tracker for their hiking and non-hiking requirements. It lets you track a variety of parameters like your heart rate, SPO2, baseline temperatures etc. It can also be paired with your phone to expand its functionality to receive phone calls, get notifications, make payments, etc.
What makes it one of the best Fitbit for hiking is that it comes with a built-in GPS to track your movement. Thus, the Fitbit Charge is compatible when you’re trail walking or hiking with a specific fitness goal.
However, when used with built-in GPS, the battery life lasts only for about 4-5 hours which can be enough for your half-day hikes and trail running. But for longer hikes, you will need to take recharging breaks or switch to other brands.
The primary reason many people hike is fitness, and a fitness tracker that lets them track their progress is one of the best investments for them.
The Fitbit Versa 2 is a quality product for those that want excellent tracking for their hikes. It even does a fairly accurate job with altitude tracking, and thanks to its Alexa integration, you can check on the weather and give numerous commands to get the most out of your Fitbit Versa. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a built-in GPS and must be connected to your phone to track your location and distance.
However, despite the lack of a built-in GP, many hikers prefer the Fitbit Versa 2 over the Fitbit Charge 4 for its impressive battery life.
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is a smartwatch fitness tracking beast. If you want a Garmin for hiking, watch out for the offerings of this incredible fitness tracker. It tracks sleep quality, energy levels, stress accumulations, heart rate, and many other vital stats for goal-oriented hikers.
In addition to this, it has multiple pre-built exercises to expand the use of the Garmin Vivoactive to almost all forms of exercises, trails, hikes and more. The GPS enhanced by GLONASS and GALILEO (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) is super accurate too.
Moreover, for those that venture in zero-signal areas, the built-in GPS works without a phone, continually tracks and is also equipped to send out location details to your emergency contacts, making this one of the top GPS watches for hiking.
This is the one I’ve chosen to upgrade to!
The Tomtom Adventurer is a stylish watch / fitness tracker built to enhance your hiking and exercise experience. Regular hikers would be delighted to know that this modestly-priced watch features altitude data, ascent, descent information, pace statistics as well as accurate heart rate computation.
Additionally, you can use the breadcrumb trail feature to avoid losing your way back. It also comes with a live compass that promptly updates itself. The Tomtom Adventurer also supplies built-in trails that are quite reliable. Additionally, you can even load your own hiking GPX files to stay on track.
The battery will keep you company on a full-day hike (12 hours+) even when used with its GPS function.
Thus overall, except for its slightly fiddly interface, the Tomtom Adventure is one of the best smartwatches for hiking.
The Apple Watch keeps getting better with every upgrade, and therefore many hikers have started relying on their Apple Watch even for the purpose of tracking their hikes.
The only caveat to using an Apple Watch for hiking is that your hike should not be more than 10 hours long. The battery life is just not that good. If that’s a condition that your hike meets, the Apple Watch can, in fact, be a great hiking tool. Its heart rate monitor is highly precise, its compass and altitude tracking too perform well. The location tracking is advanced thanks to Apple using GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO AND QZSS.
Moreover, you can always use the Apple Ecosystem to add apps such as WorkOutDoors, Alltrails, etc., to transform the Watch into the best hiking GPS watch and get the most bang for your buck.
If you want a Suunto hiking watch that’s affordable and versatile, this watch is perfect for you. Given that it is predominantly a sport watch, it features over 80 exercise trackers that track accurately. The log designs are also neatly laid out for a quick post-workout overview.
In terms of its performance in the GPS hiking watches league, it fairs satisfactorily. The GPS tracks quickly and accurately, even when employed in the backcountry. Moreover, its sturdy construction also adds outdoor-friendliness when used amidst rocks and pointed stems.
However, the watch does a poor job of mile-recording and location tracking in its battery-saving mode. The GPS doesn’t quickly catch up, and the statistics seem quite off. This means that to get the watch to perform well while hiking, you should use it when your hikes are likely to be shorter than 10 hours.
The Garmin Instinct Solar is the best GPS watch for hiking. Its battery life is one of the best in the market. Even at Max GPS Mode, the battery lasts up to 70 hours which is a whopping ten times better than a regular smartwatch like the Apple Watch. But what makes this watch the best Garmin watch for hiking is that in the expedition mode (with hourly GPS tracking), the battery extends to a huge 28 days and in the battery saver mode can last up to 56 days. If you are hiking in sunny conditions, the battery will keep recharging itself and never die out.
But it’s not just the battery life that impresses. The watch features several high-accuracy tracking features that are particularly useful for hikers, such as its compass widget, elevation tracking, GPX route, altitude reader and acclimatization widget.
In addition to these features, the watch possesses all the regular smartwatch features like heart rate monitor, oxygen reading, stress measurement etc. However, its rugged construction and hiking compatibility make it a better match for use in the backcountry than for regular sports and fitness tracking.
The Garmin Enduro is one of the best watches for hiking and running. Its battery life is undoubtedly the best in class, making it an ideal watch for multi-day excursions in no-signal areas. Even in full GPS mode, it lasts a great 80-hours that can be easily stretched to 300 using solar mode. Battery-saver mode combined with sunny conditions will make the battery last forever. The excellent battery life is also supported with rich safety features such as group live tracking means that the Garmin Enduro is one of the best Garmin watches for hiking.
In terms of GPS, too, the performance ranks the watch among the best GPS hiking watches. The use of GALILEO and GLONASS offers highly accurate readings, especially in max GPS mode.
In addition to these features, GPS Enduro boasts of other features such as breadcrumb trail, elevation tracking, heart rate tracking, triathlon support, Ultrarun activity with rest time tracking. All these features are not only highly accurate but also useful for goal-oriented fitness tracking and for serious fitness enthusiasts, well worth the extra bucks spent on this watch.
This Suunto watch for hiking is undoubtedly one of the best hiking GPS watches. Its sheer GPS accuracy sets it apart from the competition and adds it to the list of one of the most reliable watches for hiking. In fact, the GPS performs well not only in full GPS mode but also in Battery saver mode especially when used with Suunto’s Movescount map. The GPS connection speed is also remarkably fast.
The battery life may not compare with the Garmin watches for hiking reviewed above, but it is still sufficient for multi-day hiking especially when used in the minimum GPS mode. The design and construction are robust to sustain outdoor life, making it the best Suunto watch for hiking.
But what I find attractive about this watch is that it not only has rich hiking features but also aids hunting and fishing like no other GPS watch. It stores the location of your shooting for later, features an in-built moon calendar, hands out sunrise and sunset alarms and updates you with weather trends to assist you in planning your adventures as well.
The Garmin Forerunner 245 Music GPS watch is another excellent GPS watch for hiking and running. Even though often used for tracking on-field performance, it is equipped with excellent GPS accuracy that is reliable in the backcountry as well.
In terms of its fitness tracking, though, this watch by Garmin is one of the best fitness trackers. It tracks your running performance, provides insights on training quality, and syncs effortlessly with your favourite music. Its VO2 tracking is particularly useful for enhancing on-track performance.
Plus, the watch features can be greatly expanded using compatible add-ons.
In terms of hiking, though, the one drawback that this watch suffers is that it does not have an in-built barometer for capturing altitude readings independently of the map. But when paired with a map, the readings are fairly accurate.
Thus, overall, this fitness tracking app can be used as your hiking companion, especially on short hikes.
Let’s address the basics in the Suunto 9 Baro GPS Watch review. The Suunto 9 Baro GPS Watch has one of the best performance tracking battery life. This means that in full exercise tracking mode, the watch can last up to 25 hours. Most fitness trackers only last a couple of hours, and therefore this watch proves to be an excellent investment for those clocking in long hours of workout. Thus, this watch is not meant for multi-day leisure hiking. It is meant to serve you as a fitness coach for training-based hiking.
The other commendable feature of this watch is its Fusedtrack algorithm which uses motion sensor data for speed tracking when using the watch in battery-saver mode. This feature alone makes the Suunto 9 highly reliable for trail running and hiking for long hours.
Moreover, the Suunto 9 Baro also dishes out weather information, sunrise and sunset timings and storm alerts. These features are in-built into the watch and do not need connectivity with a phone, thus somewhat justifying its price tag.
The Polar Vantage M GPS watch is an excellent offering by Polar for those that want excellent performance tracking powered with the best-in-class full GPS battery life.
This watch supports a wide variety of sports, both indoors and outdoors and captures the speed, distance, routes, rest time, VO2, elevation, and so much more. Its performance under water and the accuracy of its heart-rate monitor is particularly impressive.
But does it meet the requirements of a typical hiking smartwatch? Maybe not, unless you are hiking with specific fitness goals in mind. Thus, if you head out on short day hikes and want a watch that tracks your speed, oxygen levels, heart rate monitor, distance and elevation, this watch will assist you well.
But if you hike in no-signal areas, head out on slow-paced multi-day excursions in the backcountry where you rely completely on maps; you should opt for some other GPS hiking watch from the list above.
How to choose the best hiking GPS watch and fitness tracker?
The world of GPS watches and fitness trackers is evolving by the day, with newer trackers and features getting added with every mini-update. So when deciding on a fitness tracker for hiking, you should know which features to look out for and which to ignore. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when searching for the best watches for hiking:
Whether you are using a watch to track your fitness or for navigation purposes, its battery must not die out during the hike or else, the entire purpose of wearing a hiking watch is defeated.
But that said, you should know that fitness trackers have a lower battery life than GPS watches. Thus, Fitbit and Apple watch will die out much sooner than Garmin or TomTom. So if you are heading out on fitness-oriented short hikes, day hikes or hikes on flat surfaces, look for a watch with a stellar full-GPS mode performance. The best ones in this department are the Suunto 9 Baro GPS Watch and the Polar Vantage M GPS Watch.
When heading out in the backcountry, you need completely reliable navigation tools. Thus, when looking for GPS hiking watches, you should look for a watch that offers a breadcrumb trail to trace back your route to the starting point, the ability to upload your own GPX maps, topographic maps for better elevation and landscape judgement and turn by turn alerts for confident hiking.
It would be pointless to use a fitness tracker or a GPS watch that fairs poorly with location tracking. Your fitness measurements will be off by quite a margin if the GPS fairs poorly, or the navigation on your GPS watch for hiking will not work to your advantage if your location tracking suffers. That is why you need to choose a device that connects easily with satellites. A watch that uses GLONASS or Galileo is especially useful. Most Garmin watches perform well in this area.
Even with a fitness tracker, you don’t want a watch that suffers when working out in cloudy conditions or under tree covers. Similarly, it would be ideal to opt for a watch with an in-built GPS and does not rely on phone connectivity for location tracking. The Apple Watch or the Suunto 9 Baro perform exceedingly well on this front.
Different sports require different performance trackers. Hence, if fitness is your primary goal, a fitness tracker that tracks speed, distance, elevation, heart rate, VO2 max, cadence, rest-time, etc., is particularly important. Likewise, the tracker should be waterproof for it to assist you well when swimming.
For these purposes, a classic fitness tracker like the FitBit works well for those on a budget. But for sophisticated tracking performance, a watch like the Garmin Vivoactive or the Suunto 9 Baro rarely disappoints.
The level of versatility offered by a watch is particularly useful for those that do not head out hiking regularly. Thus, for casual hikers, it makes no sense to invest in a high-end Garmin watch. A regular smartwatch that offers good GPS functionality, comes with high-quality battery life and provides weather inputs serves perfectly well.
In my opinion, your choice of a GPS watch or a hiking fitness tracker depends entirely on your end-use. Think about why you are considering buying one and what specific purpose it should meet. If fitness is your primary objective, go for a fitness tracker. If hiking support is what you seek, opt for a GPS watch for hiking. But if you are someone like me who needs the best of both, a slightly more versatile option would prove to be ideal.