GPS watches for hiking are some of the most useful accessories you can take with you out on the trail.
It can help you track basics like your speed, distance covered, and changes in elevation.
It can even give you an insight into your physical performance, helping motivate you to push through the tougher stretches.
A hiking GPS watch can be a fantastic safety tool, too, making it possible to identify your precise location and navigate back to your starting point.
Choosing a GPS watch for hiking, however, is no mean feat!
Different devices come with an array of different features and it’s not always easy to decide which one is right for you.
Considering that the average model can cost upwards of several hundred dollars, it’s important to invest wisely and find one with all the features you need.
To make things easier, we’ve put together this guide to buying the best GPS watch for hiking.
It includes an outline of the main features to look for, and a list of our favorite 7 devices on the market right now.
Let’s get started!
The 7 Best GPS Watches for Hiking in 2023
Features to Look For in A GPS Watch for Hiking
One very basic – but important – requirement is that a good hiking GPS watch should be durable.
This means that it should be rugged enough to withstand dirt and water, along with the other elements of wear and tear associated with outdoor use.
Other things to consider when choosing the best GPS watch for hiking include the following:
There was a time when few hikers would use GPS watches since the limitations of their poor battery life made them impractical.
Fortunately, that’s all changed!
A good GPS watch for hiking will include useful features like solar charging to enable you to stay off-grid for longer, or the ability to limit the use of certain features to conserve battery life.
Look out for devices with power-saving modes that make it easy to turn off various features in one go, without the need to access multiple menus.
Ease of Use
There’s a learning curve involved when you first use any new device.
A feature-rich hiking GPS watch would be no exception, so you can expect to spend a little time getting to grips with everything it can do.
But for the best experience, the watch should not be overly complicated, and any companion app should have a user-friendly interface.
All the devices featured in this guide are relatively simple to use and feature clear, responsive controls.
Range of Features
At the very least, you will want a GPS watch for hiking to include important basics like an altimeter, barometer, and compass.
Features such as time, distance, and pace are also generally included as standard.
But depending on how much you want to spend, you might prefer a device offering more advanced functions, including daily activity tracking, smartwatch notifications, and even music.
Mapping and Navigation
The best GPS watch for hiking will come with preloaded maps, or will integrate with a mapping app like Komoot.
Another helpful feature is breadcrumb navigation which allows you to see an overview of your route and how to return to your starting point.
The Best GPS Watches for Hiking in 2023
– Water-resistant, with an easy-to-read color display, compatible with the Komooot and Suunto apps
– Best choice for everyday wear
The Suunto 9 has a slightly less rugged look than many other watches in this guide, making it more suitable for daily use.
(If you’re looking for something even smaller and lighter, you might want to check out the Suunto Peak instead).
It can be controlled by the touchscreen but also has three physical buttons, which are easier to use if you’re wearing gloves.
You can plan routes using the Suunto app, which shows popular routes in your area and allows you to import existing routes from other users. The watch also integrates with Komoot.
Features include an altimeter, barometer, compass, and thermometer.
There’s a heart rate monitor built-in and 24/7 fitness tracking, monitoring steps, sleep, and calorie usage.
You also have the option to connect an external heart rate belt via Bluetooth.
Breadcrumb and point of interest navigation are included, but one of our favorite functions is the ‘Snap to Route’ feature.
This gives you the ability to predefine your route so that your GPS stays on track. This makes it ideal for hiking in areas where GPS connection can be challenging.
There’s no onboard music so you’ll need to synchronize this watch with your phone to access your playlist. You’ll also need to sync to your phone for notifications.
– Built-in superbright LED flashlight, solar charging, and preloaded full-color mapping
– Best GPS watch for hiking long distances
Offering 110 hours of GPS battery life (and a whopping 150 hours with solar), this premium watch features superb GPS accuracy and built-in music and mapping.
It is waterproof up to 100 meters and has a lightweight, scratch-resistant titanium case, along with a PowerGlass display to boost the battery.
The watch is only available in one size, but the breathable nylon hook-and-loop band is easy to adjust for a snug fit.
Boasting SatIQ, the Enduro 2 uses regular GPS in open areas and switches to multi-band GNSS to boost accuracy if you’re surrounded by trees or near cliffs.
The NextFork map guide allows you to see the distance of the next trail intersection along with the name of the upcoming trail.
The ClimbPro feature, meanwhile, shows you the gradient, distance, and elevation gain of any climbs on your route.
We love the flashlight feature. It’s pretty unusual but great for staying visible, or for simply locating items after dark.
This is the most expensive watch in our guide but delivers the advanced features and reliability you need for serious long-distance treks.
– Corrosion-resistant titanium case, dual-frequency GPS for accuracy, and built-in fall detection
– Best hiking GPS watch for iPhone users
This rugged watch is perfectly designed for the great outdoors, built with a robust reinforced case, and water-resistant up to 100 meters.
The choice of colorful bands in different sizes, meanwhile, makes it a popular women’s GPS watch for hiking.
It’s ideal if you’re looking for a device offering excellent GPS tracking whilst still allowing you to access the functions of your phone.
The always-on display is vivid and easy to read, even in bright sunshine. This is a real advantage when it comes to reading maps.
We also like the large physical button that you can customize in the app to perform a range of functions. This is much easier than trying to interact with the touchscreen mid-hike.
Set-up is simple, with a user-friendly and logical interface.
You can save waypoints with just the press of a button, and there is a low-power mode to disable features you might not need, such as heart rate monitoring and SpO2 tracking.
The main downside with this watch is that the beautifully bright screen uses a LOT of power. This gives the Ultra a relatively poor battery life of only 36 hours.
– Preloaded TopoActive maps, real-time stamina data, and 24/7 health and wellness monitoring
– Best choice for bonus features
You get heaps of functions with this premium watch from Garmin, including onboard maps and a huge amount of music storage.
You also have the choice between using the responsive touchscreen or five physical buttons.
The tough Power Sapphire lens gives your battery a decent boost for longer off-grid excursions. Garmin promises up to 57 hours indoors or up to 73 hours with continuous solar charging.
The positional accuracy of this device is excellent, with multi-band GNSS support to boost performance in areas with poor satellite coverage.
There are also onboard sensors for a 3-axis compass, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter.
We love the stamina meter which allows you to see how much energy you have left for the remainder of your hike and adjust your efforts accordingly.
And you’ll have access to lots of other useful data too, including elevation and distance tracking, sleep monitoring, heart rate tracking, and more.
– 140 hours of standard full GPS tracking, high-resolution 1.4-inch screen, and global offline mapping with Landscape, Topo, and Hybrid modes
– The best GPS watch for hiking in rugged terrain
Communicating with all five major satellite systems simultaneously, the Coros Vertix 2 offers excellent GPS accuracy, whether you’re deep in the woods or beside rock walls.
Its chipset and processor have recently been updated and are now 20% faster than the original Vertix model for a smooth and seamless display.
What’s more, up to eight data fields can be displayed on a single page, making it easy to absorb lots of information at a glance.
Features include breadcrumb trails, route navigation, a pulse oximeter, and music.
You also have access to the COROS Evo Lab software for detailed fitness analysis.
This is a tough hiking watch and is built to last, with a sapphire glass screen and a scratch-resistant titanium bezel.
Just be aware that it’s pretty chunky and heavy, too, so it might be too cumbersome for a very slender wrist.
– Military durability, always-on outdoor features, and compatibility with Komoot for mapping
– Superior biometric tracking
If you’re someone who enjoys monitoring their fitness stats during hikes and beyond, the Grit X Pro is the watch for you!
It has one of the best wrist-based heart rate monitors out there – not surprising when you consider it’s made by Polar, the company that developed the very first wireless heart rate monitor in the world!
Capable of efficiently tracking your sleep and delivering useful recovery data, it also has a helpful FuelWise tool.
This sends reminders to stay hydrated on long hikes and prompts you to refuel and maintain your energy levels.
The battery life is great and the watch will last for up to 40 hours with full GPS and heart rate tracking.
Although there are no preloaded maps, turn-by-turn navigation is powered by Komoot.
The Elevation Profiles feature gives you an image of upcoming slopes and routes.
TrackBack is included, too, guiding you safely back to your starting point and giving you the confidence to explore unfamiliar areas.
Our only complaint is that the touchscreen can be a bit slow and unresponsive, so we found the physical buttons much easier to use.
– Rugged build, multi-GNSS support for accurate tracking, and Smart notifications
– A more affordable Garmin GPS watch for hiking
If you want the accuracy of a Garmin watch without the hefty price tag of models like the Fenix 7, the Instinct 2 is a good choice.
It comes with solar charging, although this is minimal when you’re in full GPS mode, and you should only expect to get around 30 hours of life.
There’s no preloaded mapping but you can upload maps through the Garmin Connect mobile app.
You also get all the hiking features you’ll need, including storm alerts, elevation data, and TrackBack.
The main difference between this and more expensive models, however, is the monochrome display.
Whilst easy to read for basic stats, it’s not so great for navigation, and distinguishing between different types of terrain can be tough.
Nevertheless, the accurate GPS tracking and range of useful features make this a solid choice for casual hikes.
The Best GPS Watch for Hiking: Key Takeaways
Buying a good GPS watch is quite an investment. It’s important to choose a model that has all the features you need, whilst avoiding paying more for a ton of extra functions you’ll never use.
We hope this guide has been helpful in deciding which GPS watch will be the best fit for you and that you enjoy discovering all that it can do on your next hike!