Between working in the rain and participating in outdoor activities, a watch capable of withstanding the elements is incredibly useful. Today’s outdoor watches not only tell time; they also offer wearers a host of technological features, designed to enhance fitness and make outdoor activities more enjoyable.
The best outdoor watches for you will depend on the type of outdoor activities you enjoy, and whether you want additional functions. Ahead, learn what to look for when choosing an outdoor watch, and find out why the following models are top performers.
- BEST OVERALL: Garmin Vivoactive 3 GPS Smartwatch with Sports Apps
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Armitron Sport Unisex 45/7004GBK Digital Chronograph
- BEST FOR HIKING: Garmin 810G Instinct Tactical Rugged GPS Watch
- BEST FOR RUNNING: Garmin Forerunner 245 GPS Running Smartwatch
- BEST FOR WATER SPORTS: Citizen BN0151-09L Promaster Professional Diver Watch
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Outdoor Watch
Outdoor watches range in price from less than $20 to more than $300, so perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is not to spend money on features you don’t want.
Aside from considerations on battery life, outdoor watches include one or more of the remaining features outlined below. Identify which are the most important to you, and resolve not to pay more for the functions you’ll likely never use.
Among the must-haves for outdoor enthusiasts, GPS functionality is one of the most important. When camping, hiking, backpacking, or trail riding in remote areas, using global positioning to determine location and route is a highly useful, if not essential feature.
Today’s GPS watches vary in offerings. Some sync with similar models, so you can pinpoint where a hiking buddy is if you get separated. Certain devices leave digital breadcrumbs—markers along your path that can be used to retrace your steps.
If you’re heading out for a hike in unknown terrain, being able to get your bearings may prevent you from getting lost. Some outdoor watches come with digital or analog compasses that can indicate the direction you’re heading in at just a glance.
If you’re a camping or hiking enthusiast, having a compass on your watch means you don’t have to pack a separate compass. Cutting down on extra hiking gear or camping gadgets for a lighter carrying load is always welcome.
If you’re into climbing mountains, consider selecting an outdoor watch with an altimeter, which provides the current altitude. A watch with an altimeter may also feature a topographic map to verify your location, which replaces the need for more expensive GPS technology.
For the best results, if your watch has an altimeter, you’ll probably need to recalibrate it occasionally. Calibrating is usually simple and involves adjusting the altimeter to match a known altitude, which you can often find on a map or trail marker.
Barometric pressure corresponds with the weather, meaning an outdoor watch with a barometer can warn you if a storm is approaching or if the day will be sunny and clear. This is vital for boating or setting out on a lengthy remote hike, if weather predictions are not accessible.
Smart Features and Connectivity
Some outdoor watches offer smart features, such as the ability to make phone calls or send and receive texts and emails. For certain smart features to work, the watch will have to be near a smartphone to connect via Bluetooth. Other watches feature direct linking and require a subscription to a service provider.
The more functions available on an outdoor phone, the more quickly it will drain the phone’s battery. Some phones can run for months without the battery running down, while others, typically phones with GPS and smart functions, may need to be charged daily.
Newer outdoor watch models may come with built-in solar chargers to help the watch stay charged when you can’t access an electrical outlet. Portable power banks are also available that can be used to charge the watch when you’re out and about.
Virtually all of today’s outdoor watches are water-resistant, while some are waterproof and suitable for swimming or diving. Waterproof watches will be rated to a specific water depth, such as 50 feet or 100 feet.
Many outdoor watches come with the ability to light up with the press of a button, so you can see what time it is in the dark. Rather than having to dig around in your camping gear to find a flashlight, you can press a button on the watch and see what time it is. This is a big help when hiking or camping after dark.
For many, spending time outdoors is a distinct part of staying healthy and fit. Many outdoor watches offer the means for tracking activity, such as counting the number of daily steps as well as monitoring heart rate, so you can set goals and track your progress.
Our Top Picks
The following top picks are reliable, weather-resistant devices with various useful features. These models are among the best outdoor watches in their respective categories, suitable for different users based on individual needs.
For an all-around outdoor watch that comes with GPS and monitors activities, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Smartwatch is a dependable choice. This outdoor watch is suitable for both men and women. It comes with a 1.2-inch-diameter LED display and includes more than 15 preloaded apps for monitoring conditions such as barometric pressure, altitude, and outdoor temperature.
The Garmin Vivoactive 3’s GPS function allows individuals to track their route’s distance, pinpoint a location, and record pace. Users can also keep an eye on heart rate and see how many steps they take in a day. This outdoor watch supports downloads of activity-specific apps that coordinate with yoga, swimming, running, and more for tracking favorite activities. The Garmin Vivoactive is waterproof for showering and swimming.
It isn’t necessary to spend a lot to enjoy the features of an outdoor watch. The Armitron Sport Watch functions as a stopwatch for tracking, includes a configurable alarm, and can display either standard time or military time. It shows the date, including day of the week, and has a built-in backlight.
The Armitron is waterproof to a depth of 330 feet; it’s well-suited for swimmers and snorkelers, but it won’t withstand the pressure of diving. This watch is durable, dependable, and available at an attractive price point.
Hikers will know exactly where they are and what path to follow when wearing the Garmin Instinct Tactical Watch. This rugged watch meets military standards for heat-, shock-, and water-resistance (up to 330 feet). It syncs with a smartphone to track heart rate, stress level, and preferred sports and activities via downloadable apps.
The Garmin Instinct GPS comes with a trackback feature that guides individuals back to their starting point if they become disoriented while hiking. The device includes access to the Garmin Explore website to plan trips and routes. In addition to GPS, the Garmin features a basic compass system.
The Garmin Forerunner Smartwatch is specifically designed for joggers and runners, and it can play a helpful role in training. The watch syncs with music streaming services, such as Spotify, to download and store music while running, but it doesn’t stop there. The Forerunner tracks running progress and pairs with Garmin’s coaching app, helping users stay on track and increase speed and distance.
To stream music with the watch, Bluetooth-capable earpods are required (not included). You can configure the Forerunner to create custom training sessions or download predesigned training sessions from the Garmin online fitness community.
Whether you’re a swimmer, water-polo player, deep-sea diver, or enjoy other water activities, the Citizen Diver Watch can keep you on track. It comes with a classy chrome analog face and reliable quartz movement. The Citizen watch doesn’t come with extras such as tracking heartbeats or steps, but it’s waterproof up to 666 feet, so even divers are able to see what time it is.
The Citizen shows the date and comes with a backlit display for seeing in the dark. The divers’ watch doesn’t run on a battery. Instead, it captures solar energy and stores it in a rechargeable power cell, providing a dependable watch without the need for battery charging.
FAQs About Your New Outdoor Watch
Outdoor watches offer a wide variety of functions, all designed to make outdoor experiences more fulfilling. If this is the first time you’ve shopped for an outdoor watch, it may be surprising how many features these devices can offer, and you might still have lingering questions.
Q. What makes an outdoor watch different?
Outdoor watches are virtually all water-resistant. Some include features such as GPS tracking, a stopwatch, compass, or barometer to provide information on location and weather conditions.
Q. Are outdoor watches waterproof?
Most of them are, to an extent, but not to the same degree. Some will only withstand getting wet or splashed, while others are suitable for deep-sea diving.
Q. How long do outdoor watches last?
An outdoor watch can last 3 to 5 years or longer—it may be necessary to replace the band before that, however, as most bands are good for 6 to 18 months of daily wear.