Best GPS Watch for Hiking | Reviews 2017

Outdoors are great activities to engage in especially during spring or fall when the weather isn’t too harsh. Like any other pastime, for your hiking expedition to be fun and safe, you need to be equipped with the right tools and gear. A GPS watch is no longer a luxury today as it was in the past because at the centre of hiking are two crucial factors; time and direction.  

The best watch for hiking comes with some specific features including the ability to display time, altitude, speed and show direction. In addition it needs to have quality design and substantial battery life.

The table below gives you a brief of their features followed by an in-depth review of each watch.

GPS Watch for HikingFenix 3, SapphirePAG240-1CRGear S3 Frontier
ManufacturerGarminCasioSamsung
AltimeterYesYes, pressure-basedYes
BarometerYesYesYes
CompassYes, DigitalYes, DigitalNo
GPSYes, breadcrumb trailYesYes, A-GPS
ThermometerYesYesNo
StrapBlack rubberResinSilicone
Battery Life20hrs GPS mode6 months depending3 days depending
Heart Rate MonitorYesNoYes
Water-resistance Depth100m100m1.5 m
Face Diameter1.2 in1.5 in1.3 in

Best GPS Watch for Hiking Reviews 2017

1. Garmin fēnix 3, Sapphire

Garmin has made great strides in the GPS world to emerge on of the most trusted and dependable brands. The Fenix 3 Sapphire GPS watch comes as a great option for hikers thanks to it good navigation features.

Display

Fenix 3 is designed with a Chroma display that is 1.2-inches in size and well observable under sunlight thanks to its high resolution and LED backlight. Again, the display is bonded optically to ensure utmost safety to your eyes when using it.

This specific model is designed with a dome-shaped lens made of strong sapphire material that cannot be scratched and to add to its durability, it comes with a stainless steel bezel and buttons with a strengthened housing.

ABC Sensors

An altimeter for altitude checks, Barometer for pressure checks and weather forecasting, as well as a 3-axis compass with Sight N Go feature for accurate checks on direction whether you are in motion or not are three indispensable features that will certainly interest you with this unit. In addition, it comes with a TracBack features to help hikers retrace their trail to the start point in case the need to do so arises.

Navigation and Accuracy

This unit comes equipped with a stainless steel constructed EXO antenna designed with the ability to radiate waves uniformly in all directions, a feature known as an omni-direction. Coupled with EPO and GLONASS features, you are guaranteed of more accurate location readings.

This unit is designed to provide navigation both on and off beaten tracks and will capture GPS track logs with a breadcrumb- trail on the track you are on.

Connectivity

With an ability to connect to hotspots including Wi-Fi, it is easier to transfer data to the Garmin software and receive notifications for important information coming through your phone.  

Additional Features

With a remarkable battery life of 20 hours with the GPS feature on, 50 hours with the UltraTrac feature on and up to 6 weeks if your are only using the watch without other features. It is compatible with Connect IQ, Garmin linked apps platform, therefore allowing you to customize your apps, widgets, watch faces and data fields to suit you.

Again given that it is Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled, you can share your expedition information with your mates or family.

Pros

  • Comes with sports training and navigational features meaning that it is ideal for several activities including fitness training, hiking, skiing, swimming and racing among others.  
  • Customization options for watch face, apps, widgets and data field.
  • Excellent data tracking capability for different activities
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Heaviest of the Fenix 3 watches
  • Men’s design
  • With all the features it comes with, some users might find it complicated to use

Verdict

The Fenix 3 is a true reflection of a technology oriented feature-packed GPS watch not only for the hiker but also for other sports and outdoor enthusiasts.

And because both hikers and sports people are keen on weight and size, the thin slim Fenix 3 definitely fits their requirements. With an excellent ability to mark tracks, landmarks, checkpoints and others, it will certainly charm you if love storing and sharing much of your tracking information and if you prefer a customizable watch.


2. Casio Men’s PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch

Casio is yet another household name that many are all too familiar with thanks to a high penetration of its pocket calculators into the wider market.

An outstanding feature about Casio’s Pathfinder PAG240-1CR watch is its solar charged battery with an incredible battery life of up to 6 months without recharge although this depends on its settings. Another important feature is its battery level indicator so that you will know when it is the right time to expose your watch to light for a recharge.

Triple Sensor

Like other top hiking GPS watches, this one too includes inbuilt altimeter, barometer, digital compass and a thermometer. Of great importance is its ability to withstand low temperature up to -10 C/14 F especially if you intend to hike to higher altitudes and are keen on accurate temperature and pressure readings. For improved visibility of buttons on its display during the night or in situations of poor visibility, it comes designed with an EL backlight available in variety of colours.

Designed for Style and Comfort

No one desires additional discomfort during hikes especially in harsh weather. The PAG240-1 comes designed with great comfort detail. Firstly, it is plastic. Plastic is a poor conductor of heat so your wrist will not be affected by extreme temperature.

Secondly, its strap is made of resin which is not only strong and durable but soft and comfortable on the skin. It overly detailed, round-shaped design is an appeal to men and some ladies in love with masculine designs. Furthermore, this design conceals the normal wear and tear keeping your watch as good as new all the time.

Its 5.1 cm diameter case is made of stainless steel and a mineral display that is resistant to scratch for durability and the aesthetics if you love it shiny.

Timer

Casio PAG240-1CR watch has one of the best auto-timer features as it requires no resets. Its latest addition to this feature is the use of Bluetooth which through connecting to the user’s phone updates time and date automatically.

This unit is enabled to automatically display world time for an impressive 31 time zones and 48 cities including their codes. It also includes an allocation for 5 daily alarms, a hundredth-second stopwatch, a countdown timer as well as an option for either the 12-hour or 24-hour time format. In addition, it will accurately track and store sunrise and sunset data.

Because some hikers find the calendar an important feature especially when tracking routes, landmarks, and other data, this unit is designed with an automatic calendar dating to 2099. All these are powered by a quartz movement with a bi-directional bezel important for measuring different time related events as we have already listed.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use and read at a glance
  • 3-D navigation useful for off-trail hiking

Cons

  • Buttons tend to produce loud noise when pressed
  • Lacks radio synchronization
  • The countdown timer can only be set in minutes or hours but not in seconds

Verdict

Missing the synchronization feature does not in the least make the PAG240-1CR watch fall short of being the best GPS watch for hiking. However, if this feature is important to you, you may consider others higher in this Casio series. Overall, this unit is rated a reliable GPS watch designed with utmost simplicity for both expert and beginner users.


3. Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

This sleekly designed Smartwatch is certainly one to watch out for if you are looking for the best GPS watch for hiking and other outdoor activities. Gear S3 Frontier features some amazing technologically ahead features placing it among the high-end Smart watches you will certainly not mind purchasing. These include

Design and Construction

Solidly built to take in some rough treatment and still remain intact, the Gear S3 is rated not to damage even with drops as far as 5ft. This owes to its screen protector made of MIL=SPEC-810G rated Gorilla Glass and a stainless steel casing.

This unit is designed with a serrated rotating bezel to ease its operation. You have the option of using the bezel or the touch-screen option to scroll, operate and select items in the Smartwatch. The bezel is a great option in wet conditions when the screen does not detect wet fingers.

In addition and quite importantly, this watch lets you not only receive text, call and email notifications on your watch, it is also designed to let you respond to them. Therefore if you decide to leave your Smartphone at home and operated only with the S3 you would still not be limited in terms of communication. On top of this, this watch will sync with your phone number so as you respond to communication you will be using your normal number.

A silicone band in the Frontier comes with more comfort and durability and is best suited for outdoor activities like hiking.

Display

The S3 screen measures 1.3 inches in diameter and comes with a 36.x360 pixel resolution to provide light bright enough and clear colour for both day and night visibility. The screen is designed with an ‘always on’ setting so it will not time-out and even with a dimming effect, will still display clear detail. On the other hand, this setting consumes much of your watch’s charge in a short time.

Sensors

S3 comes with an altimeter and a barometer in addition to GPS and a heart rate monitor for those who opt to use it during outdoor workouts.

A distinct safety feature worth mentioning is its SOS mode which you can switch to in time of danger or emergency and send a distress call to selected contacts to communicate your location.

Operation

The Frontier is designed to operate with its very own Tizen OS, something that users found a bit limiting although it still works well with android and iPhones. Its battery can take you up to three days only if you use it as a watch. Use of other applications and especially switching on the ‘always on screen setting’ will need you to recharge more frequently. On the other hand it comes with the advantage of charging it wirelessly.

Pros

  • Allows you to install apps directly to it without having to first download through a Smartphone  
  • Puts the user more in charge by offering more than one operation options for different operations.
  • Solidly built

Cons

  • At 2.2Oz, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier happens to be twice as heavy compared to most others in the same league
  • Given that it is data enabled, this unit doesn’t provide navigation unless connected to a phone
  • Faster battery charge consumption

Verdict

If you are looking for a Smartphone that is a step ahead technologically, the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier makes a good option. Apart from a few deficiencies that can be overlooked, this watch will reduce gadgets like your Smartphone in your backpack.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the hiking-specific features to consider when purchasing a GPS watch?

  • Portability – portability is directly related to size and weight.
  • Ease of Use – How easily can you operate the watch using both its software and hardware? What are some of the applications you will have access to and are they useful for your intended purpose? Is the watch customizable to suite your personal requirements? How easily can you track, store, transfer, sync, and access data later on?
  • Accuracy – accuracy represents how fast the watch will detect signals of location in both open and engaged spaces. This depends on the strength and quality of its signal as well as the size of its antenna. The watch should be able to display real-time data during your hike and still compute and store it for access later.
  • Comfort – for long or difficult hiking expeditions, you need a watch that is comfortable on your wrist. Consider the strap of the watch. Some have replaceable straps while others will come with fixed straps.
  • Battery-Life – Battery life is an important feature however, watches with many features and applications tend to consume charge faster than others. On the other hand, a watch with a large battery will store charge for a longer period compared with one with a smaller battery.
  • Hiking specific features – These include the all important ABC (altimeter, Barometer, and Compass) along with a thermometer and sometimes a heart-rate monitor.

Conclusion

Finally, the best GPS watch for hiking will entirely depend on your personal needs but the above mentioned factors will help you narrow down your search and have an easier time making your selection.

Of the three, the Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire stands out as our top pick with only a short battery life as its drawback. The rest of its features make it a strong, durable accurate watch you may want to consider during your selection.

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