13 Best Outdoor Watches for Active People (2020 Buying Guide)

best sports watches

The best outdoor watches for wherever your adventures take you – from skiing to surfing, hiking, and working out. 

If you just want to know our go-to pick for the best outdoor watch, we’d recommend the Apple Watch or the Suunto Core

Today’s best outdoor smartwatches are more than tough timepieces – they’re mobile command centers for every aspect of your active life. 

Whether you’re looking for a simple tool to track your runs or an advanced backpacking watch for long treks, there’s something out there for you (or whoever you’re holiday gift shopping for).

These days, sports watches come in many different styles and price ranges.

So to make sure you choose one that’s suited for your needs, we’ve broken down the best outdoor watches below based on different activities. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips. 

best adventure watches

Here’s a Quick Look at Our Recommendations

Best Outdoor Watches

13 Top Outdoor Watches

#1 Apple Watch

Best Everyday Outdoor Watch

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Battery: Lithium-ion
Battery Life: 18 hours
Display Size: 1.5/1.7 inches
Altimeter: Yes, barometric
GPS Functionality: Yes – GPS, GLONASS
Water-Resistant Depth:
50 meters
Features:
Blood oxygen sensor, sleep tracker, heart sensor, waterproof

The Series 6 Apple Watch is one of the best everyday outdoor smartwatches, with an emphasis on the “smart.”

This watch comes loaded with features that will do everything from tracking your sleep to your blood oxygen level. 

The health tracking features on the Apple Watch are second to none – they monitor just about every vital function you can track with a watch.

The 64 bit processor, 32G of storage and seamless companion apps make it an ideal device for gathering and storing all of your health data. 

You can easily wear this watch anywhere – from your morning run to business meetings to backpacking trips.   

While it doesn’t look all that technical, the Apple Watch is fully waterproof and comes with solid navigation capabilities like GPS.

It may not be the most advanced survival watch, but its features, durability, design, and overall versatility are more than enough to make it the best outdoor smartwatch for everyday use.  

Alternatively, if you want a good all around outdoor watch for less than $200, the Suunto Core is a great choice.

While it’s not as sleek as the Apple Watch, the solid black design is still stylish and classic enough for daily wear. 

And for a little over $100, the Suunto Core gives you a lot.

It has an altimeter and barometer, weather trend graphs, preset sunrise/sunset times, an intelligent storm alarm to alert you to weather changes, and a reliable quartz movement. 

PROS 

  • Two different size options
  • Interchangeable bands for customization
  • Retina display is bright enough to use outdoors without turning on the screen
  • Pre-programmed workout modes
  • One watch that does it all

CONS

  • Only compatible with Apple phones
  • Less than 24-hour battery life, needs to be recharged daily

#2 Fitbit Versa Lite

Best Outdoor Fitness Watch

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Battery: Lithium-ion
Battery Life: 4 days
Display Size: 1.34 inches
Altimeter: None
GPS Functionality: Yes
Water-Resistant Depth:
50 meters
Features:
Heart rate monitor, GPS, sleep tracking, bluetooth, water resistant

Fitbit is the original fitness tracker and still one of the best outdoor watches for sports and health tracking.

While it lacks a lot of the extra features that some of the best hiking watches have, its simple design is sleek and light and offers more than enough features for fitness tracking.   

Namely, the Fitbit Versa Light is the best smartwatch for fitness tracking because the preset workout modes and companion app are easy to use and highly functional.

This watch tracks all of your physical activity – from calories burned to laps swam to stairs climbed. 

With the sleep tracking and four-day battery life, you can throw it on and forget about it until it’s time to check your stats.

And, unlike other smartwatches, it’s small and light enough that you can actually forget you’re wearing it. 

PROS 

  • 15 preset exercise modes for precision tracking
  • Four-day battery life
  • Corning Gorilla Glass screen
  • Special features for female health tracking 
  • Customizable straps

CONS

  • Can only send quick text replies on Android
  • Sometimes doesn’t display iPhone notifications properly
  • No altitude metrics

#3 Casio Pro Trek PRG-270-1

Best Outdoor Watch Under $200

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Battery: Solar rechargeable battery
Battery Life: 6 months (without solar recharge) 
Display Size: 2 inches
Altimeter: Yes, pressure-based
GPS Functionality: No
Water-Resistant Depth:
330 feet (100 meters)
Features:
Compass, barometer, altimeter, countdown timer, stopwatch, water resistant

The Casio Pro Trek is a full-featured survival watch that happens to be one of the best outdoor watches under $200. 

The Pro Trek is a genuine mountaineering watch crammed with just about every feature you could ask for on an outdoor trip.

It has an extra sensitive altimeter/barometer, weather forecasting, thermometer, compass, heavy-duty water resistance, and every kind of alarm/stopwatch functionality you could want. 

And the Casio Pro Trek is the best ABC watch because it can get all this done for less than $200.

Plus, with the Casio name (popular with the special forces) you can be sure you’re getting a solid watch that will last for years.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for an affordable watch that’s a bit more stylish and wearable, the Timex Expedition Field Chronograph is a good choice. 

“Chronograph” is just watch speak for a stopwatch – these timepieces combine both a stopwatch face and standard minute and hour hands. 

Although not as rugged and durable as the Casio Pro Trek, with waterproofing, brass bezels, and a super low price point, the Timex is still one of the best outdoor watches under $100.

PROS 

  • Stainless steel case
  • Solar-powered battery recharging
  • Above-average altimeter accuracy 
  • Great automatic LED backlight

CONS

  • Battery can’t be easily replaced once it dies
  • Big and chunky – not ideal for everyday wear
  • Not smartphone compatible

#4 Garmin Instinct Solar

Best GPS Watch for Hiking

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Battery: Solar rechargeable battery 
Battery Life: 30 hours – 24 days (depending on which mode you’re in)
Display Size: 1.2 inches
Altimeter: Yes, pressure-based 
GPS Functionality: Yes – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
Water-Resistant Depth:
330 feet (100 meters)
Features:
Heart rate, stress monitor, solar charging, barometric altimeter

The Garmin Instinct is a rugged, all-in-one hiking watch with some unique navigation features.

While it’s on the bulkier side, it comes in 16 fun colors so you can choose one that fits your style for daily wear. 

The Instinct comes with all the standard fitness tracking options (sleep, heart rate, etc) as well as a stress tracker. 

But one of the best features is the solar recharging.

It allows you to take this GPS watch on a long hike and be sure you’ll have still power for the last few miles.

The Garmin Instinct can also be set to different battery use modes, so you can conserve power if you don’t need to use GPS. 

In addition to the solar battery, the Instinct has some convenient navigation features.

Most notably, it supports three satellite systems and allows you to ‘backtrack’ along your earlier route so you won’t get lost when you’re hiking. 

As a good runner-up to the Garmin Instinct, the Suunto Traverse is an excellent choice. 

The Suunto Traverse is for someone who needs a watch that blends in a little better for daily use (and it’s cheaper than the Suunto 9).

It isn’t solar-powered, but it has a 100-hour long battery life, GPS, rugged construction, and a simple black and silver design. 

The Traverse is a good pick if you’re looking for hiking watches that have an easier price point. 

PROS 

  • Built to military standards
  • Backtrack navigation function allows you to follow your path on return  
  • A lot of color options
  • Multiple sports modes and battery consumption modes

CONS

  • Screen protector sold separately
  • Not a touch screen
  • Big and bulky

#5 Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GG-1000

Best Backpacking Watch

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Battery: Lead-acid watch battery
Battery Life: Two hours
Display Size: 0.9 inches
 
Altimeter: No
Water-Resistant Depth: 660 feet (200 meters)
Features: Thermometer, digital compass, mud-resistant

Casio has a reputation for making some of the most durable watches on the market, with good reason.

A Casio outdoor watch is nearly indestructible. 

The Casio Mudmaster is no exception with its waterproof and shockproof design.

This watch has a mud-resistant design and a number of other useful features, such as an LED backlight, compass, thermometer, and calendar.

It also has a stopwatch and countdown features. 

And this watch is highly durable for any kind of outdoor adventure. 

The Casio Mudmaster can handle literally being dragged through the dirt, dropped, stepped on, or frozen.

Between this and its two-year battery life, this Casio model an ideal hiking watch or camping watch. 

PROS 

  • Tough mineral glass display cover
  • Buttons are specifically designed to be mud-resistant
  • LED backlight 
  • Functional in a wide range of temperatures

CONS

  • No barometer or altimeter
  • The hybrid analog/digital display can be tough to read at a glance

#6 Coros Vertix

Best Mountaineering Watch

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Battery Life: 60 hours in GPS mode, 45 days standard mode
Display Size: 1.2 inches
Altimeter: Yes, pressure-based
GPS Functionality: Yes – GPS, GLONASS, Beidou 
Water-Resistant Depth:
492 feet (150 meters)
Features: Blood oxygen monitoring, altitude acclimation assistance, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal

If you’re planning a serious adventure in the great outdoors, the Coros Vertix is an ideal choice for an outdoor watch.

It’s a seriously technical piece of gear with plenty of hiking and mountaineering-specific features. 

This watch has 24/7 blood oxygen monitoring and an acclimatization assistance feature.

If you’re making big elevation changes, it can also help you keep your vitals on track.  

The Coros Veritx is the best mountaineering watch on this list because of its superior construction and unique altimeter features.

Its sapphire crystal design, extra-sensitive altimeter dials designed for gloves, and underwater use mean it’s ready for anything your next expedition can throw at it. 

PROS 

  • Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal 
  • Big digital knob for easy operation, even in gloves
  • Excellent battery life
  • Compatible with Strava

CONS 

  • Fairly technical for daily wear
  • High-quality features come with a higher price

#7 Garmin Fenix 6X Pro

Best Ski Watch

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Battery: Lithium-ion
Battery Life: 21 days/15 hours in GPS mode
Display Size: 1.4 inches
Altimeter: Yes, pressure-based
GPS Functionality: Yes – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
Water-Resistant Depth:
394 feet (120 meters)
Features: Garmin pay, preloaded TOPO maps, 3-axis compass, barometric altimeter, stainless steel case

This Garmin hiking watch is a hero for a lot of outdoor sports, especially skiing and snowboarding.

It has solid fitness tracking, as well as excellent GPS and preloaded maps that make it perfect for resort and backcountry skiing. 

As a barometric altimeter watch, the Garmin Fenix can help track the weather and your movements when you’re off-trail.

It also comes with topographical maps to augment the GPS navigation and extra altitude acclimation features. 

Another convenient feature is the PacePro, which monitors your heart rate and exertion and gives you recommendations to help guide you through your exercise. 

This Garmin watch is tough and versatile enough to make a solid ski watch, but what really sets it apart from other solar watches are its preloaded resort maps.

To give you an idea, with the Garmin Fenix, you have access to 2,000 worldwide ski resort maps right at your fingertips.

PROS 

  • Grade-adjusted pace guidance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Solar battery charging
  • Comes loaded with ski resort and TOPO maps 
  • Stainless steel bezel

CONS

  • Sometimes has issues with iPhone pairing

#8 Timex Weekender

Best Field Watch

⭐⭐⭐
Battery: Lead-acid watch battery
Battery Life: 10 years
Display Size: 1.4 inches
Altimeter: No
GPS Functionality: No
Water-Resistant Depth:
98 feet (30 meters) – not swim proof
Features:
Integrated backlight

The Timex Weekender is everything a field watch should be – classic, uncomplicated, and timelessly stylish.

It’s a great buy for someone looking for their first watch or a good everyday watch that won’t be too delicate.  

In contrast to most of the watches on this list, the Timex stands out for its lack of features.

It won’t track your heart rate, connect to your smartphone, or predict the weather.

All it does is tell time and light up when the backlight button is pressed, but it stands out with its classic field watch design. 

Plus, its limited features mean the battery can last for up to 10 years. 

One thing to note is its lack of water resistance.

The Timex Weekender is waterproof to 30 meters, but only for brief periods of time, so you won’t want to go swimming with it. 

Alternatively, the Citizen Eco-Drive could be the best quartz field watch if you want a more waterproof design. 

The Eco-Drive is not only a waterproof field watch, but designed to run forever, without recharging or changing the battery (it uses solar power to keep the batteries topped up).

Otherwise, the Timex is more reasonably priced for a standard and simple field watch without extra features.

Just keep in mind, as mentioned above, that it’s not a technical outdoorsman watch.

PROS 

  • Simple and classic
  • Extremely long battery life
  • Very durable and reliable
  • Excellent ‘hidden’ backlight

CONS

  • No special outdoor features
  • Not swim-proof

#9 Casio G-Shock Rangeman

Best Tactical Watch

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Battery:
Lead-acid watch battery
Battery Life: 7 months
Display Size: 2.5 inches
Altimeter: Yes
GPS Functionality: No
Water-Resistant Depth:
656 feet (200 meters)
Features:
Mud proof, compass, altimeter barometer, bluetooth connectivity

Another classic Casio offering, the Rangeman is rugged and reliable enough for any outdoor activity.

While it lacks GPS, it has a three-sensor altimeter/barometer and compass unit.  

The G-Shock Rangeman has above average water resistance (up to 200 meters), solar battery recharging, and all the standard survival tools.

It’s also Bluetooth enabled so you can sync it to your smartphone. 

This watch is a solid technical watch because it’s tough enough to handle anything, from dirt to mud to dust.

Its housing is also sealed with multiple gaskets and surrounded by a pipe frame that protects the buttons and makes them easier to use.

Otherwise, a good alternative to the G-Shock is the Garmin Tactix.

The Tactix is built to military standards and has all the GPS and smartphone features you could want, such as messaging, music, and mobile pay.

The only downside is that it’s significantly more expensive than the G-Shock Rangeman. 

If you need a tactical timepiece with a lot of smart features, the Garmin is a good pick.

If that’s not as important to you, the Rangeman is a better pick for the money.

PROS 

  • Extremely durable
  • Good waterproofing
  • Big buttons that are easy to use in technical situations (cold, wet weather, mud, etc)

CONS

  • No GPS
  • Very technical for everyday use

#10 Garmin Forerunner 945

Best Running Watch

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Battery:
Lithium-ion
Battery Life: 2 weeks in smartwatch mode/10 hours in GPS mode
Display Size: 1.2 inches
Altimeter: No
GPS Functionality: Yes
Water-Resistant Depth:
164 feet (50 meters)
Features: Music storage, performance tracking, workout analysis

The Garmin Forerunner 945 is a thoughtfully designed watch packed with features that are useful for any runner. 

First, this Garmin watch has great workout and training plans, as well as above-average performance monitoring.

Most notably, it can measure your heart rate and Vo2 Max (your maximum oxygen uptake – the highest amount of oxygen you can use during exercise). 

With these stats, the Forerunner 945 is able to analyze your workout, accounting for heat, altitude, recovery time, and more.

It can also share your location automatically if it senses an incident, which can give solo runners some peace of mind. 

Another running-specific feature is the music storage (compatible with Spotify, Amazon Music, or Deezer).

You can download up to 1,000 songs to this smartwatch, making it an ultralight music player you can take with you on the go. 

It’s also compatible with Garmin pay, so you don’t need to bring a wallet if you want to pick up a drink or a snack on a long run. 

With that said, if you’re looking for a watch that you can also take hiking, the Forerunner is lacking some key features.

The Garmin Instinct or Fenix 6X would be a better choice if you want a Garmin hiking watch because of their altitude and atmospheric pressure sensors.

For a standard running watch, however, the Forerunner 945 is tough to beat.

If you’re not ready to shell out for the Forerunner 945, the older 245 model has almost all the same features in a paired-down package.

It’s a slightly smaller and lighter watch, with about half the battery life and song storage as the 945. 

And if you’re not running regularly, the 245 is probably more than enough for you.

PROS 

  • Can be used as a lightweight music player
  • Preloaded with maps
  • Supports Garmin Pay 
  • Good safety features for solo runners
  • Includes workout and training plans

CONS

  • 10-hour battery life in GPS mode – long enough for most runs but not for everyone
  • No altitude or pressure monitoring – not the best hiking watch

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Display Size: 1.6 inches
Altimeter: No
GPS Functionality: No
Water-Resistant Depth:
656 feet (200 meters)
Features:
Automatic movement, steel bezel, day and date functions

The Seiko SKX line is a classic for a reason.

If you’re looking for the best mechanical dive watch or just an entry point into the world of mechanical watches, this Seiko is a great choice. 

This watch doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it has exactly what a dive watch needs.

It’s waterproof to 200 meters and features a unidirectional bezel, so it won’t underestimate your dive time.

And, for a mechanical watch, it comes at a very reasonable price. 

Unlike the other watches on this list, the Seiko will never need a battery.

You don’t have to worry about charging, solar power, or changing the battery from time to time.

This is an automatic watch, meaning it doesn’t need to be wound – natural kinetic motion will keep it in time. 

While it’s not as easy to use as a quartz watch (you’ll need to make sure it stays in time), the Seiko has earned its place as a quality dive watch at a budget price point.

However, if price isn’t a concern and you want a truly special watch built to the highest standards, look no further than the Omega Seamaster.

This Swiss-made, stainless steel dive watch features a top-of-the-line sapphire crystal and beautiful blue face.

You can safely dive to almost 1,000 feet with the Seamaster. 

This is an investment watch, not a simple dive tool.

But if you’re ready to invest and you’re a regular diver, it will be a useful watch for years to come.

PROS 

  • Automatic mechanical movement- no need for a battery
  • Water-resistance allows for SCUBA diving
  • Unidirectional bezel – important safety feature for divers
  • Luminous face and hands
  • SEIKO quality

CONS

  • Minimal extra features
  • Less accurate than a quartz movement
  • Not designed for everyday wear

#12 Garmin Swim 2

Best Swimming Watch

⭐⭐⭐
Battery: Lithium-ion

Battery Life: 13 hours in GPS mode/7 days in smartwatch mode
Display Size: 1.04 inches
Altimeter: No
GPS Functionality: Yes – GLONASS, Galileo
Water-Resistant Depth:
164 feet (50 meters)
Features:
Measures stroke efficiency, smartphone syncing, GPS

If you’re looking for a swimming specific watch that won’t break the bank, check out the Garmin Swim 2.

It has all the standard features of an outdoor watch but optimized for water sports. 

This watch is designed to monitor your heart rate in the water for a more accurate recording.

It can also measure your pace, stroke count, stroke type, and SWOLF, which is a measure of your stroke efficiency. 

The onboard GPS will keep you on track during an open water swim and smartphone syncing allows you to receive calls and texts even when you’re in the pool. 

While this Garmin watch is a decent all-around outdoor watch, there’s a reason it’s called the “Swim.”

It’s best for water sports and won’t have all the right features if you’re looking to take it on a run or a hike.

Alternatively, if you want a swim watch with a little more versatility, the Garmin Forerunner 935 is a solid pick.

It’s waterproof and comes with pre-programmed sport modes, including swimming, but it can still be used for running, cycling, and hiking as well. 

PROS 

  • Specialized swimming sensors and programs
  • GPS for open water swimming
  • Good battery life
  • Reasonable price for a sport-specific device

CONS

  • Less useful for other sports
  • Not as durable as dedicated watches for hikers

#13 Garmin Instinct Solar Surf

Best Tide Watch

⭐⭐⭐⭐
Battery: Lithium-ion
Battery Life: 30 hours in GPS mode/24 days in smartwatch mode
Display Size: 0.9 inches
Altimeter: Yes
GPS Functionality: Yes – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
Water-Resistant Depth:
328 feet (100 meters)
Features: Surf performance tracking, GPS, health tracking

This surf-specific edition of the popular Instinct Solar improves on one of Garmin’s most rugged watches. 

The Instinct Solar Surf monitors altitude and weather conditions, tracks your workout performance, and keeps your location secure with three different GPS systems.

It also comes in more than a dozen colors.  

The Instinct Solar Surf makes the best tide watch because it’s designed to record surfing metrics such as waves surfed, max speed, and distance traveled.

It’s also loaded with tide data, so you have the information you need for your next surf at your fingertips.

Alternatively, if you just need access to tide data without all the bells and whistles, consider the Nixon Base Tide Pro.

It’s significantly cheaper than the Garmin and uses a standard watch battery, so you don’t have to worry about charging. 

The Nixon Base Tide Pro doesn’t have GPS or fitness tracking, but it does come with standard chronograph features and 15 years of tide data.

PROS 

  • Surf activity profile lets you record surfing-specific exercise metrics
  • Thermal, shock, and water resistance to military-grade 810 standard 
  • Solar battery charging extends battery life 
  • Unique tracking features, such as oxygen uptake and stress
  • Preloaded with tide data

CONS

  • Smaller screen
  • Technical for daily wear

What are the Best Outdoor Watch Brands?

Garmin

Garmin is known for all-around, feature-packed watches.

Their products are used by many serious outdoor athletes.

If you’re looking for the best survival watch, barometer watch, or backpacking watch, Garmin is a good place to start. 

garmin watch

Suunto

Suunto makes some very popular outdoor watches, like the Suunto Traverse Alpha and the Suunto 9.

However, they don’t offer solar-powered timepieces.

Solar watches can make the best watches for hikers because of their extended battery life. 

Casio

If you’re looking for heavy-duty watches, Casio makes near-indestructible products. 

Casio watches are the best bet for military-grade durability. 

Apple

Apple has been getting more competitive in the outdoor smartwatch game recently.

The Apple Watch is waterproof, versatile, app compatible, and customizable with interchangeable bands.

It’s a good outdoors watch for someone who doesn’t need too many highly technical features. 

What’s the Difference Between an Outdoor Watch and a Standard Smartwatch?

The two main differences between an outdoor watch and a standard smartwatch are durability and special features.

Outdoor watches are usually waterproof, shockproof, and designed for more abuse. 

Outside of keeping time, they usually monitor extra metrics of interest to athletes, such as heart rate, altitude, and GPS position. 

best tactical watch - casio

Types of Outdoor Watches

Everyday Outdoor Watches

An everyday outdoor watch is perfect for regular exercise and light hiking.

These should be waterproof and shockproof, but they don’t need to have expedition-ready battery life or advanced features like a compass altimeter. 

Fitness Watches/Trackers 

Fitness watches monitor physical metrics like heart rate and blood oxygen and often track speed and position.

It’s best to look for a fitness tracker watch with a heart rate monitor that uses a separate external chest band – this will prolong battery life.

best fitness tracker - fitbit watches

GPS Watches 

GPS watches use the Global Positioning System (or GLONASS, the largest alternative satellite system to GPS) to find your location and track your movements.

If you don’t need navigation in your watch all the time, consider a handheld GPS device.

ABC Watches

“ABC” stands for Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass.

ABC watches are usually big, chunky wrist pieces that give readings of these three metrics.

They’re useful for outdoor sports but be aware that the readings aren’t always perfectly accurate – they’re better for giving you a general idea of your surroundings. 

Mountaineering Watches 

Mountaineering watches combine the features of an ABC watch with GPS, usually with enhanced battery life and all-around ruggedness.

They’re designed to serve as your command center on a serious expedition.

best abc watches

Ski & Snowboarding Watches

Ski and snowboard watches are waterproof and usually have GPS features so you can stay on track in the backcountry.

It’s helpful if they’re smartphone compatible, so you can answer calls and messages without digging your phone out of your pack.

Field Watches

Field watches are rugged, simple watches originally designed for the military.

Soldiers returning from WWI and II helped popularize wristwatches as everyday wear for men.

Previously, they had been fashionable only for women.

The battle-ready timepieces used by soldiers became some of the most popular watches of the last century. 

Field watches are simple – they’re designed to tell time without any extra bells and whistles.

They usually have no fancy features like a compass or GPS, but they’re tough and reliable.

Survival/Tactical Watches

By contrast, survival and tactical watches are usually packed with features like an altimeter and barometer or GPS to help you locate and read atmospheric conditions around you.

In a survival watch that’s meant to be used in harsh conditions, water-resistance and battery life are especially important.

The best survival watch is one you can be sure won’t fail in the backcountry, regardless of the weather.

Some survival watches even use solar power to prevent dead batteries.

Running Watches 

Battery life is also important when choosing the best active watches for a runner, especially when running marathons. 

These watches should have a longer battery life than your training sessions.

Running watches also tend to feature technology that helps track workouts, like GPS and heart rate monitoring.

Dive Watches

Dive watches need more than just standard waterproofing.

Specifically, they should be waterproof to at least 200 meters and feature some kind of backlighting for dark conditions.

A unidirectional rotating bezel is also an important safety feature.

The bezel (the outside frame part of the watch) can be set to rotate and show time elapsed on a dive.

It’s important for a diver to not underestimate their dive time (and remaining oxygen).

A bezel that can only turn forward will never show less time than has actually passed, even if it’s knocked.

dive watch, seiko

Swimming Watches

Like dive watches, swimming watches are waterproof, but they don’t need to withstand deep water.

While just about any outdoor smartwatch will do the job, designated swimming watches have useful features like stroke detection and the ability to set workout parameters such as pool length.

The best watches for swimming also have a “water mode” where they can be controlled with buttons or bezels because using a touchscreen with wet hands is difficult.

Surfing/Tide Watches 

Surfing and tide watches provide a lot of the same tracking features as swim and dive watches, but they also usually come loaded with tidal information for surf breaks all over the world.

More advanced surf watches come with wave counters, moon phase information, and sun up/sun down times.

Quartz vs Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches are simply watches that don’t require a battery.

Because of their complex internal workings (called “movements”), they’re prized as collector’s items. 

Within mechanical watches, there are two main types of movements: manual and automatic.

Manual movement watches need to be wound frequently (usually every day) in order to stay in time. 

Automatic movement watches use the natural kinetic energy of the wearer – e.g. your hand moving – to wind themselves throughout the day. 

On the other hand, quartz watches use a battery to power their movement instead of internal springs.

While they lack the prestige associated with mechanical watches, they’re more accurate and easier to use.

How to Choose an Outdoor Watch

Altimeter

This tool measures atmospheric pressure (by way of an onboard barometer) to estimate your attitude.

Most read altitude in increments of three feet. 

They’re not as accurate as a standalone device, but a watch that has an altimeter is useful  for anyone who plans to be taking extended trips in the backcountry. 

Barometer

A barometer can give you readings of atmospheric pressure around you.

When read properly, barometer readings can predict short-term weather changes.

Compass

A compass is mandatory on any serious watch for the outdoors.

Most watches use a digital compass that can be hard on battery life, so a watch with a power-saving mode that shuts the digital compass down when not in use is handy.

Battery Life

Battery life for an outdoor smartwatch varies widely, from 24 hours to a few years depending on the size and features.

Most smartwatches will last one to two days on a single charge, although there are things you can do to prolong the battery life. 

Just make sure to buy a watch that can last through your intended activities.

For example, if you’re planning to use it as a compass on a three-day backpacking trip, make sure your watch has three-days worth of battery life. 

Comfort & Size

Comfort and size are individual concerns when it comes to the best outdoor watches.

Make sure you measure your watch’s dimensions to your own wrist or try it on before buying.

Some of the full-featured outdoor watches are very big and heavy, especially for women.

Style 

When it comes to style, there are two main considerations: band and display.

There are dozens of different watch straps available from classic NATO bands worn by James Bond to metal chain link designs pioneered by Rolex to utilitarian rubber straps. 

For good outdoors watches, however, a basic strap made of durable nylon or nonslip rubber is probably the best choice. 

Displays are usually analog or digital.

Some outdoor watches have a fairly traditional display with an hour and a minute hand, while other smartwatches are fully digital with no set screen.

what to look for in outdoor watches, display size

Price

While you can certainly find a good watch under $100, the best rugged outdoor watches will cost at least a few hundred dollars.

If you want the newest smartwatch with a lot of features, expect to pay upwards of $500 or more.

Display Size

Most smartwatches today have large displays that are at least an inch wide and fairly easy to read.

If you have some vision impairment or just want a watch that you can read with a glance, opt for one with a full screen like the Apple Watch where you can change the font size.

GPS Functionality

If you plan to be doing an extended trip or any off-trail travel, GPS is a must.

Look for a watch with both GPS and GLONASS, preferably one that comes preloaded with TOPO maps.

Durability 

The best outdoor smartwatches, and even cheap outdoor watches, are extremely durable.

Most will be more than tough enough for general outdoor use.

If durability is a concern, look for a watch that meets military standards.

Water-Resistant Depth

Water-resistance is a common feature of all top outdoor watches, but be sure to check the water resistance depth for specialized use.

Most dive watches are water-resistant to at least 200 meters.

Smart Technology

Look for a sports watch that can sync to your smartphone and uses well-designed fitness apps to get the most out of your device. 

Other Features

Outdoor watch brands pack in special features for specific use cases.

Surf reports, pre-loaded TOPO maps, and solar charging are good examples.

One special feature that’s useful to nearly everyone is sleep tracking. 

More Questions and Tips for Buying the Best Outdoor Watch

What is the Toughest Outdoor Watch?

The Casio G Shock series has been on the market since the early ’80s.

It’s widely recognized as one of the toughest watch lines on the market.

What is the Best Adventure Watch? 

The Garmin Fenix is the best adventure watch because of its versatility.

It’s perfect for running, swimming, skiing, and backpacking expeditions.

What is the Best Watch for Walking?

Most watches on this list will work fine for walking, but the Garmin Forerunner 945 stands out because you can use it as a music player too.

Is Garmin Better Than Suunto for Outdoor Watches?

Garmin and Suunto both make great watches, but Garmin has the edge with solar charging and a wide array of features.

backpacking watches

Conclusion – What’s the Best Outdoor Watch For You? 

For most people, the best outdoor smartwatch is the Apple Watch.

It has every feature you could need for running, swimming, hiking, biking, and general health tracking, but it’s still discrete and stylish enough for everyday use. 

If you have an Android, or you need extended battery life and durability for outdoor sports, the Suunto Core or the Garmin Instinct are both good choices.

And the Suunto Core at least is more affordable than the Apple Watch. 

Just remember, the best outdoor watch is always the best one for your needs.

Make sure you’re buying a watch with specific features if you plan to use it for just one sport.  

For all-around use, the Garmin Forerunner series (especially the cheaper early models) provide a good mix of price and function.

If you don’t need smartwatch capabilities, choose the rugged Casio G Shock Mudmaster

Whatever your needs, there’s an outdoor smartwatch that’s perfect for you.

Apple watch - best outdoor watch

Kristi Allen