According to research conducted by SmokyMountains.com, wandering off the trail ranks as the number one problem faced by hikers. Based on over 100 news reports for the past 25 years, the study shows that getting lost in the wilderness and national parks in North America is very common.
Yosemite National Forest Search and Rescue study reveals that 4,661 people get lost and need assistance every year. Statistics show that 21 percent of boaters go missing while 48 percent are hikers. The fatalities in Yosemite alone are 158, which comprise 3.3 percent of the reported lost number of people per year, and most of them are hikers.
One solution that solves the problem of getting lost is through a watch, but not just any watch—a watch with a compass.
First, what makes the best hiking watch?
ABC – This acronym stands for Altimeter, Barometer and Compass. These are the key features you need to consider when buying a watch intended for hiking.
An altimeter shows your location above sea level based on barometric measure and GPS data—this will help you determine your location on a map.
A barometer helps you predict the changing weather and tells you in advance about a coming storm.
Lastly, the compass directs your path and sets your bearing—this way, you can triangulate and easily determine your present location.
Durability – Hiking watches should go with a durable wristband, sturdy case and a scratch-resistant display. It should withstand general abuse of the trail and dirt, as well as be waterproof.
Price – If you get high-end watches, you get more advanced features such as more durable materials like sapphire glass display and sensors. This depends on the price but the higher the cost means better specs.
Ease of Use – Intuitive interface matters in anything, including watches. You don’t want to get lost in the wilderness and spend the entire afternoon trying to figure out how to use the navigation features when every second in a survival situation counts.
Battery Life – Smartwatches that include GPS, for example, drain easily compared to non-GPS watches. If you prefer a watch that can last for months, use a non-GPS watch. For example, Casio Pro-Trek PRW-2500T-7 is a non-GPS and solar-powered watch that guarantees long-lasting battery life—it lasts for five months.
Glass – The best hiking watch features glass, such as sapphire, that can resist scratches. However, sapphire glass costs a lot. In this case, there are other alternatives such as the Gorilla Glass which is cheaper than sapphire. If you’re on a tight budget, chemically-strengthened glass makes a good option too.
Water Resistance – Pick a watch that comes with a higher degree of water resistance. Let’s say you want to go swimming. You need to wear a watch with a standard water-resistance of 100 meters. There are higher-end watches that employ 200 meters of water-resistance too.
GPS – Although some watches don’t incorporate GPS due to battery life issues, GPS has an edge when it comes to navigation and tracking. This feature provides instant coordinates of your current location and produces information such as current speed, ascent, descent and distance. It allows you to export to apps for analysis.
Now, let’s explore the best hiking watches with a compass?
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
Introducing the Garmin Fenix 6, one of the best hiking watches on the market. It includes a three-axis compass with built-in sensors.
This watch also comprises high-end features such as preloaded topographic maps, three global navigation satellite systems (GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS), gyroscope and barometric altimeter and the ski maps of over 2,000 ski resorts worldwide.
Garmin Fenix 6 has incredible battery performance in different modes—10 hours in music and GPS, 14 days in a smartwatch, 28 days in GPS expedition and 48 days in battery saver mode.
It features a sophisticated style with stainless steel bezels and a sunlight-readable 1.3 inches display coated with diamond-like carbon or DLC. The glass made of sapphire guarantees scratch-resistant quality. This watch features 100 meters of water resistance.
Other features include advanced Pulse Ox and wrist heart rate estimation, PacePro for advanced training, and music storage with premium streaming service.
- Gives accurate tracking of activities
- The design looks sturdy and solid
- Very versatile watch
- Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is too expensive
- Features take time to learn
- Other cheaper Garmin watches offer the same features
Suunto 9 Baro
Suunto 9 Baro competes with other watches when it comes to being the best in hiking. It employs a digital compass with an accuracy of 5 degrees and 1-degree resolution. The compass also includes tilt compensation and declination correction.
Usually, a GPS watch gradually consumes the battery. Regarding this matter, Suunto 9 Baro is equipped with intelligent battery modes that will send you alerts whenever you heavily consume your battery. Let’s say your watch detects your battery running low during a workout—a pop-up message will suggest you change the battery mode. This watch lasts from 25 to 120 hours with GPS tracking running in the background.
Suunto 9 Baro gives more accurate information compared to other watches that orient themselves strictly to GPS reading. It is because this watch features a barometer that combines barometric altitude information combined with GPS data.
Other specs include 100 meters water resistance and wrist heart rate monitor. The materials of this watch include silicone straps, bezel made of stainless steel, and glass made of sapphire crystal.
- Reliable battery performance compared to other GPS watches
- Easy to use buttons and touch-screen
- A minimal issue in tracking a massive range of sports
- Difficult to use mapping functionality in Suunto app
- Time zones and altitude don’t automatically adjust
Garmin Instinct is a built-in sports-watch that consists of a three-axis compass including an altimeter and barometer for elevation data and weather monitoring. This watch employs three global navigation satellite systems: GPS, Galileo and GLONASS.
Healthwise, it calculates your stress level and shows whether you’re having a balanced, calm or stressful day. It also measures your heart rate to determine the intensity of your fitness activity.
This watch allows you to receive smart notifications using a compatible phone and automatically uploads data to the online fitness community.
The battery life of Garmin Instinct comes in three modes. If you’re in smartwatch mode, you can expect it to last for 14 days. However, if the GPS is running in the background, it can only last for 16 hours and 40 hours on battery saver mode.
You can rely on the sturdiness of this watch because it’s made to the standard of the US military. The materials used ensure ruggedness and durability. This includes a watch display that is made from chemically-strengthened and scratch-resistant material, bands made of silicone and a case made of polymer. It also comes with 100 meters of water-resistance.
- Comfortable and lightweight
- Accurate tracking and ABC sensors
- Very responsive apps and keys and intuitive menus
- Dependable battery performance
- Lacks some features like VO2 max and pulseOx
- Many customers say the watch size and display are too big
Casio Pro-Trek PRW 2500T-7
Casio Pro-Trek PRW 2500T-7 comes with a digital compass that makes hiking paths easy and trackable. The specified compass includes bearing memory and supports magnetic declination correction. As a triple-sensor watch, it also includes an altimeter with memory, thermometer and barometer. The arrow icons indicate barometric pressure patterns.
This non-GPS watch beats other GPS watches when it comes to battery performance. One of its strong features includes a self-charging solar-powered battery that lasts for 5 months on regular mode and 23 months in power-saving mode—both without further exposure to sunlight.
Casio Pro-Trek PRW 2500T-7 employs 200 meters of water resistance when you encounter strong water pressure along the way. It also features a duplex LCD screen that renders optimal layout of data and a full auto EL backlight with afterglow.
- Easy-to-read and accurate compass
- Reliable and long-lasting battery life
- Easy-to-operate buttons
- The titanium band and bezel are prone to scratches
- Needs to be detached from wrist because it picks body temperature
Casio Pathfinder makes one of the best hiking watches with a digital compass. It also includes a barometer, altimeter and thermometer that aid hikers to identify changes happening in the weather patterns.
This watch is non-GPS which makes it advantageous when it comes to battery life. It can last up to six months. It comes with a solar-powered battery, includes a power-saving mode, and automatically charges when exposed to sunlight. It goes a long way for hikers that enjoy long adventures.
When it comes to materials, Casio Pathfinder is made of a stainless steel case and resin band. It applies 100 meters water resistance, which makes it suitable for other activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling.
- Easy to charge and long-lasting battery life
- Easy-to-use watch
- Very durable and sturdy
- The barometer and altimeter need a little bit of calibration to work well
- Buttons on the side are not easy to use
If you’re planning to buy the best hiking watch with a compass, try any of these watches.