Traditional timekeepers have been an essential accessory since they were devised long ago, helping individuals everywhere to remain punctual, informed, and headed in the right direction. But over time, it became clear that these wrist-worn peripherals were meant for far more than the measurement of hours and minutes. Eventually, they would become a worth foundation for modern technologies, serving as an interface between the wearer and the worn, and giving the world’s greatest adventurers access to statistics revolving around fitness, weather, and tracking at the touch of a button. After perfecting a handful of outdoor-oriented watches and dressing them in the most rugged materials available, it became clear that the future of adventurous wristwear was ripe with opportunity, and today, the genre has become one of the leading markets for the exploratory community.
Naturally, this had large implications for the outdoor industry’s most prominent wristwear providers, who could now utilize the trusted accessory in new and exciting ways. Companies like Suunto, Garmin, And Casio stepped forward to usher in a new era of wristwatch built primarily for the outdoors, calling upon bespoke architectures to keep notable aspects like altitude, barometric pressure, global positioning, and magnetic direction at the forefront of their new designs, spurring others to do the same. Following a massive influx of technical wristwear into the outdoor market, adventurers everywhere would be able to push harder, travel farther, and dive deeper than ever before. Since then, the implementation of modern technologies has only served to amplify the purpose-built genre, clearing a path for bleeding-edge inductions like GPS and GLONASS navigation, up-to-date emergency notifications, storm and weather alerts, and other important safety features that weren’t previously available inside one compact accessory. Below, we’ve decided to put all of our favorite examples into one easy-to-reference guide for your perusal, speaking on aspects like construction, technology, capability, and design. So, before you head out to push the boundaries of the wilderness, be sure to prepare yourself in the best way possible.
Timex Ironman 30-Lap Classic
Timex might be one of the most notable wristwear makers in the game, but they’ve procured a certain “reputation” with more critical consumers due to their affordability and simplicity. While that might be an issue confined to the upper-echelon of outdoor watch aficionados, it’s a welcome development to nearly everyone else, especially those who are interested in acquiring a straightforward, no-frills companion for the trail. The brand’s Ironman 30-Lap Classic might not be designed exclusively for the trail like the some of the other offerings on our list, but when it comes to water-resistance, lightweight construction, and just enough capability to keep it in the running against the genre’s alternatives, the athletically-inclined variant can surely hold its own. Throw in a 30-lap memory, customizable alarm, and countdown timer, and you’ve got an INDIGO-lit wristwatch that won’t let you down, whether you’re off-grid, or in the pond.
LAD Weather Altimeter Compass Watch
LAD’s Weather Altimeter Compass Watch has an impressive name, and although it might seem tempting to discriminate against its capabilities, it actually pulls all of these things off with striking precision. The sleek piece of wristwear boasts an altimeter, barometer, compass, pedometer, live weather forecasting, a thermometer, and a timer to help you remain punctual as you hit different checkpoints throughout your journey. However, to use all of these different quality-of-life features correctly, the watch should be durable enough to handle the situations you put it through — a simple task, courtesy of its aluminum bezel, stainless steel caseback, mineral glass, and polyurethane strap. Once you slap it on you’ll also be able to record up to 30 different points of referential data, including your 10 highest altitudes, burnt calories, and distance traversed, making it preferable for a number of outdoor activities; hiking included.
Fitbit is a household name when it comes to accessing data and pairing it with unparalleled tracking systems, and that doesn’t change just because of its presence in the urban environment, or on the trail. While it wasn’t built specifically for consistent jaunts into the unknown wilderness, it works surprisingly well due to its lightweight anodized aluminum watch body and legible diagnostic screen, allowing hikers to utilize 15 different exercise modes, connect to smartphone GPS, or access their favorite weather app to figure out the forecast ahead of time. The watch’s robust technical suite even allows for 300-song storage, 24/7 heart rate tracking, sleep state calculation, and a four-day battery life that can keep you on the trail for extended periods of time without having to charge. This, coupled with the watch’s calendar, text, and call alerts will ensure that you’re at the top of your game when you’re in the urban environment — but it’s still not bad to have when you’re off-grid, either.
Garmin might be one of the biggest companies in the GPS and outdoor watch realms, and we’d be lying if we said that their title wasn’t hard-earned. Over the past 30 years, the adventurous brand has stood at the forefront of outdoor exploration, thanks to its cutting-edge GPS technology, tracking features, and evolutionary peripherals. So, when all of that experience was introduced in a lightweight, wrist-worn peripheral, we were all ears. The Garmin Instinct is a ruggedized variant that utilizes one of the world’s best GPS systems to help you navigate everything from the traditional roadways to tough outdoor environments, calling upon a versatile three-axis compass and barometric altimeter to keep you “in the know” when it comes to positioning and direction. These features are irreplaceable if you’re looking to head off-grid for any amount of time, and thanks to the implementation of GLONASS and Galileo nav satellite systems, it’s able to track in areas that traditional GPS might not be able to reach. Alongside a suite of fitness diagnostic tools like an estimated heart rate, activity profiles, and smart-notifications, Garmin’s Instinct seems to be your best ticket for precognition.
Suunto stands atop the outdoor watch realm as its most prominent provider, and according to everyone who’s ever owned one, there’s a reason why they’ve secured their position as the industry’s best. The company’s Traverse watch is a perfect example of its commitment to excellence, calling upon both GPS and GLONASS navigation, ultra-accurate timekeeping systems, a FusedAlti altitude, vertical speed, and ascent calculator, and a barometric trend/storm alarm to keep you informed as you take on the toughest trails known to man. Dive deeper into the watch’s interesting technical suite and you’ll find a distance graph, digital compass, and a Movescount topographic map application that allows you to access your location at the touch of a button. For the more fitness-minded, there’s even a step/calorie counter, incoming call, and text capabilities, and a push notification suite to keep you up-to-date on important communications that might be coming in.
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
Garmin is gracing our list again with the Fenix 3 HR — a modernized model that provides unparalleled access to precision satellite navigation and tracking. It relies on an omnidirectional stainless steel EXO antenna and various sensors to monitor your steps, goals, direction, and heart rate, giving you an in-depth understanding of your situation while on the trail. Thanks to the watch’s connection to GPS and GLONASS, you’ll be able to pinpoint your location across more environments than ever before, while also keeping track of activity and sleep cycles, calories burned, and vital data for those who are looking to take advantage of the trail for training purposes. The best part? It’s all housed within the company’s ruggedized housing, which features a 1.2-inch Chroma color display and crystal lens for adequate legibility in direct sunlight. There’s even an LED backlight for those evening adventures where proper illumination might be an issue.
TomTom GPS Multisport
TomTom’s GPS Multisport watch arrives on the laurels of one of the world’s most respected GPS and tracking companies. As such, it’s a worthy addition to any list that centers around the outdoor activities and endeavors, offering users an extra-large display to track their own personal goals and position as they traverse their favorite trail. If you’re not privy to the watch’s running, cycling, and swimming sensors, then you’ll be able to dial into its distinct training modes to keep track of everything from heart rate and calories, all the way to distance traveled. But if that’s not enough, there’s even a graphic training partner integrated directly into the watch, allowing you to plan and act upon your goals, courtesy of an interactive interface and full-screen graphics that will lead you to a better, more immersive experience, regardless of your location.
Casio Pro Trek Tough Solar
Casio’s debut on our list brings with it one of the genre’s most formidable watches — the Pro Trek Tough Solar. If you can’t already tell by its name, it was built to take on the world’s toughest environments without putting up a fuss, calling upon atomic clock time calibration signals, a battery-free solar architecture, and a five-month operational window that can take advantage of faint traces of light to keep it in working order. Utilizing the watch’s triple-sensor layout, users will be able to access vital information from the Tough Solar’s altimeter/barometer, compass, and thermometer, and reference it via the timepiece’s duplex LCD screen. As a result, you’ll be able to track over 40 of your most recent diagnostic records, including elevation gain/loss from -2,300 to 32,800 feet, barometric pressure patterns, and a digital compass that can provide an accurate heading, regardless of location. There’s even a tide/moon data graph that can prove useful to fishermen, kayakers, or other water-faring adventurers.
Casio G-Shock Mudmaster GG1000
It’s no coincidence that Casio is making their second appearance on this list. After all, the company’s G-SHOCK branch has accrued a massive fanbase and followership due to its outdoor prestige. The Mudmaster GG1000, for example, stands at the top of the brand’s functional lineup, offering explorers and athletes a means of adequate tracking to ferry them from one challenge to the next. If you’re a denizen of the training world, the Mudmaster GG1000 is the answer to all of your outdoor training needs, thanks to its rugged resin case, shock-proof architecture, and an extra-large, 47-millimeter silhouette that exudes an aura of undeniable performance. On top, an ultra-legible black dial and illuminated hands are protected by the brand’s formidable mineral crystal, resisting abrasions and scratches so that you can keep pressing forward. Couple that with a dependable Japanese-Quartz movement and a water-resistance rating of up to 656 feet, and you’ve got a watch that’s fit to stand at the forefront of G-SHOCK’s iconic lineup.
Suunto 9 Baro Black
As we stated earlier, the inclusion of Suunto on any outdoor wristwear guide is a given. But, even among the brand’s own ranks, there are variants that usurp and surpass their counterparts when it comes to raw potential. The 9 Baro Black is one such offering, calling upon the company’s innovative smart battery tech to monitor trends in usage, and inform you based on your current application of the watch, ensuring that you’ll never head to the trail without an adequate charge. You’ll be able to utilize a number of different modes, including the 25-hour Performance mode, which utilizes pinpoint GPS accuracy and data gathering, or Endurance mode, which features 40-to-60 hours of battery life, and can aggregate integrated wrist heart rate tracking, Bluetooth Smart capabilities, and other interesting features. Last, but not least, the Baro Black’s Ultra Mode will allow wearers to take less frequent GPS readings to keep the watch viable for extended periods of time, and utilize in-suite data alongside FusedTrack, a barometric altimeter, and various distance, pace, elevation, and ascent/descent statistics. It can even set a waypoint trail to act as breadcrumbs as you make your way deeper into the wilderness, meaning that you can retrace your steps to get home safely. That, paired with the watch’s 100-meter water-resistance and built-in Storm alarm, can keep you up-to-date on breaking weather conditions while protecting the watch from any inclement inhibitors you might face.
The 18 Best Hiking Apps
Not everyone wants to keep their trail guide attached to their wrist. If you fall into that group, head over to our guide on the best hiking apps to find out how to utilize your smartphone, rather than wristwear, for outdoor adventure.