Smartwatches That Will Enhance Backpacking

They'll help you navigate, measure your hikes, and sometimes even hold your texts for you. They can track your hikes or locate you on a map, measure altitude, even run apps. After hundreds of days and thousands of miles, our testers picked out these incredible watches.
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Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro

With a huge color touchscreen and an impressive battery life (10 hours with one-second GPS tracking), the Spartan Sport Baro is a GPS watch even our resident tech-phobes can get behind. “The app menu is super intuitive,” one says. “I figured out how to touch through the options to leave a breadcrumb trail, drop a waypoint, and track my elevation within seconds of picking the thing up.” Nice touch: Three buttons perform the same functions as the touchscreen—so we never had to deglove to operate the watch in cold weather.

The Spartan Sport Baro is water-resistant to 100 meters. It uses Suunto’s FusedAlti tech for unmatched altitude accuracy. (By combining a barometer with the GPS, the watch can track your elevation to within a foot or so of reality.) Get it here.

Garmin Epix GPS Watch

Garmin Epix GPS Watch

Garmin Epix GPS Watch

GPS watches are great for tracking your route, coordinates, and speed, but those features are only helpful when compared to a physical map. Otherwise, the black dotted line on your screen doesn’t tell you much. Enter the EPIX, which is the first wearable GPS that displays colored relief maps (buy and pre-load the ones you want or pay $50 to get a 1:100,000 U.S. topo upfront) on its 1.4-inch, high-res touchscreen. “I could check my location on the fly to make sure I was headed for the right drainage,” said one Colorado tester after a tour in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. With 8 gigs of internal memory, it can hold a whole region at a time, so you don’t need to swap out maps before local trips.

It has all the standard GPS functions—altimeter, barometer, and three-axis compass—but it actually links two satellite systems (the usual GPS and another called GLONASS), giving it a top-class signal. With the GPS on, the battery lasts up to 24 hours (turn it off overnight and when you don’t need a signal). Bonus: It’s waterproof to 50 meters. Buy it now!

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3

Ditch your phone: The new Apple Watch has the same mapping and trail-friendly functions as the Series 2 (plus a new barometer), but this one comes with built-in cellular. You’ll need a $10/month service plan, but who says freedom is free? Since it’s no longer tethered to your phone, the smartwatch does a pretty good impression of a GPS watch, mapping, tracking, and creating routes in real time (if you have service). Our trail runners loved that they could stay connected, make calls, and text without toting their phones—which might be useful for thru-hikers. Series 3 is water-resistant to 50 meters and it has built-in GPS and GLONASS, an altimeter, a heart rate monitor, and an accelerometer. Battery life is similar to a phone: about a day with normal use or about five hours with the GPS tracking turned on.“The nylon-weave Flash Sport Loop band breathes well and, after more than 50 trail runs, is still stink-free,” one tester says of the new hook-and-loop band upgrade ($49). Buy it today.

Suunto Traverse

Suunto Traverse

Suunto Traverse

Five buttons could be confusing, but a super-simple interface makes it intuitive even for neophytes: Buttons are labeled (View, Back Lap, Light, Next, and Start). As you move through the menus, on-screen prompts minimize confusion. For instance, when you pause GPS recording, text on the screen asks if you've finished your hike and if you’d like to save the data.

Best in class: While running the GPS, you can log up to 100 straight hours before recharging. Without GPS? Two weeks. “This is the watch you want on multiday trips, for sure,” one tester says. For context, most other GPS watches last half as long in similar modes.

The silky silicone band slides easily across skin and hair and resisted stank over a season of hard use. Available here.