Best Hiking Watch 2018: “ABC” Watches Reviewed

One of the keys to finding your destination is first knowing where you currently are. While handheld GPS devices have made this a lot easier, if you’re looking to save a bit of space then you might consider an Altimeter, Barometer, Compass (ABC) watch.

The compass and altimeter combined with a topographic map will allow you to navigate ​even if your GPS goes down.

While the barometer will give you a heads up when there’s bad weather on the way. The modern ABC watches have come a long way beyond just supplying elevation, direction and barometric pressure info.

The prices of some of these watches have also become pretty eye-watering. If you’re looking for the best ABC watch for hiking and climbing then take a look at our reviews below. These watches go beyond novelty and are extremely useful pieces of outdoor gear.

Best Hiking Watch Reviews

Each of the devices listed below have altimeters, barometers and compasses as standard features while some also have built in GPS functionality.​


We’re not sure how Garmin managed it but inside this stylish compact watch you get all the features of a great ABC watch, GPS functionality, fitness tracking and a bunch of other features.

The display is fully customizable giving you both analog and digital options with plenty of designs downloadable from Garmin.

We’re wary of ABC’s that incorporate GPS because of battery life but this watch will keep going anywhere from 20 hours to 3 weeks depending on your use.

We really liked that you can pair it with your smartphone to get mail, texts and alerts displayed on the watch.

If you’re jumping out of planes, climbing mountains or heading into the unknown then the performance and durability of this watch easily justifies the high price tag.

What We Like

  • GPS and GLONASS built in makes this a true navigator watch
  • Beautiful styling
  • Good wireless connectivity to smartphone or for updating via wifi
  • Display is easy to read even in full sunlight
  • TracBack function makes it easy to retrace your steps
  • Decent battery life in spite of GPS

What We Don't Like

  • Really expensive

If you want a mid-priced ABC watch with GPS then this is a great option.


The sensors work really well (after some simple calibration) and the GPS is very accurate. It seems there’s no end to the level of customization and features available via the phone app and Movescount website.


It pairs with your phone to display mail, text and call alerts but you can’t reply or control the phone’s media player from it like a true smartwatch can.


There’s no subtlety about this watch. It’s really big, which is great if you like a large display, but means it doesn’t work as an everyday watch when you’re not out scaling peaks.


This is a great watch for trail running, hiking or even just for logging your workouts when you’re training.

What We Like

  • Built-in accurate GPS receiver
  • Impressive battery life - 30 to 200 hours depending on GPS use
  • Route navigation and track back for easy navigation
  • Connects to phone for semi-smartwatch capability
  • Customizable on the go via free app on phone
  • Good price for ABC with GPS
  • Ships with heart rate belt

What We Don't Like

  • Big and bulky
  • Heart rate chest strap it comes with could do with an ergonomic redesign

If you like having plenty of biometric data in addition to your usual ABC info then the Fenix will definitely impress.

The GPS/GLONASS receiver provides very accurate position info and the ABC sensors perform just as well.

The design is fairly sleek for all the features it has built in and there are plenty of watch faces that you can download for it.

We really liked the Elevate wrist-based heart rate monitor which means you can get rid of that uncomfortable chest strap.

It has good smartwatch features like phone alerts and will also give you basic control when playing music via your phone.

The battery life is good so you’ll probably only need to charge it about twice a month.

The price tag is pretty high but if you want detailed bio data at your fingertips combined with excellent navigation features then it doesn’t get much better than this.

What We Like

  • Built in GPS and GLONASS gives very accurate position
  • Plenty of free watchfaces downloadable from Garmin
  • Backlighting and bright colors make display easy to read in all conditions
  • Excellent biometric data reporting
  • Scratch resistant sapphire lense is very durable
  • WiFi enabled for easy connectivity
  • Monitors heart rate via wrist strap

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive

The PRW3000 is a slimmed down updated version of the popular PRW2500.

Being solar powered this watch has excellent battery life and will give you around 7 months operation on a single charge even if it doesn’t get any light on it.

The design is the standard Casio look which is more function over form but if you’re after a useful piece of equipment rather than a fashion statement then it definitely works.

The ABC sensors work well with the altimeter measuring 5’ (or 1m) increments, the compass displaying 1 degree 60 seconds continuous measurement and the barometer gives pressure change alerts.

If you know how to read a map and use accurate ABC data then this watch will give you that while saving you the cash that a GPS watch would cost you.

Casio removed the tide and moon phases though so if these are important for you then you may want to stick with the PRW2500.

What We Like

  • Backlight can be set to come on automatically when raising wrist
  • Solar powered with auto power saving mode gives excellent battery life
  • Multi-band atomic clock for extreme time accuracy
  • Very accurate ABC data

What We Don't Like

  • No GPS
  • Not a very attractive watch

If you like planning your trip before heading out then you’ll love the Suunto Traverse.

You can use the great topographic maps on Suunto’s Movescount website and then upload your planned route to the watch.

This makes it so easy to head out on a new route with confidence.

The construction of this watch is rugged and tough but they’ve managed to still keep it very attractive. We really liked the sunrise / sunset time feature which helps you plan effective use of available daylight hours.

Another handy feature is that you can set the backlight to flashlight mode if you’re clutching around in the dark trying to find stuff or if you need to check your map at night.

The battery only lasts around 3 days when using the GPS which makes it only really suitable for shorter trips or in conjunction with a good battery charger.

What We Like

  • GPS and GLONASS enabled
  • Plan your trip by uploading routes before heading out
  • Breadcrumb feature makes it easy to find your way back
  • Some smartwatch features when paired with smartphone
  • Attractive design means this works as an everyday watch too

What We Don't Like

  • Battery life isn’t great

If you just want basic ABC data or if you’re on a budget then this is a good entry level ABC watch.

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean you don’t get decent performance. The accuracy of the ABC data is pretty much spot on and the altimeter displays in increments of 1m which is better than a lot of the more expensive ABC watches.

The temperature sensor is a nice touch although it’s more accurate when the watch isn’t being worn.

This is not the most durable of watches though. It’s water resistant but we wouldn’t recommend testing that feature and the screen scratches easily so you’ve got to be a little careful with it.

This is a good budget option if you’re not planning on using it too often.

What We Like

  • Great price for an entry level ABC watch
  • Built in thermometer
  • Tracks accumulated ascent and descent
  • ABC data surprisingly accurate for this price

What We Don't Like

  • Acrylic glass face scratches easily
  • Why put a compass bezel on a watch that has a digital compass?

If you like your adventure to have a touch of style then you’ll enjoy seeing this watch on your wrist.

You get the accurate timekeeping you’d expect from a Swiss watch combined with accurate ABC data that is easily accessible.

We love the touch screen interface. Selecting one of the ABC modes is as simple as pressing one button and then touching the corresponding section of the watch face.

The digital and analog display work together beautifully to display data in an easy to read manner.

It’s especially cool to see how the watch hands change from telling time to becoming the compass arrows when selecting the compass mode.

It looks amazing and works beautifully but we wish it didn’t cost so much.

What We Like

  • Beautiful, stylish design
  • Accurate Swiss movement
  • Touch screen interface make selecting functions a breeze
  • Analog / Digital display does a great job of indicating time and ABC data

What We Don't Like

  • High price tag
  • You have to cut the wrist strap to size

ABC watches aren’t usually known for their good looks but the Suunto Core not only functions well, it looks good too.

The ability to change the battery easily is great because it saves you a trip to a jeweler. Just make sure you get that back on properly because if it doesn’t seal it won’t survive getting wet.

While this watch gives accurate info it does seem to have some quality issues. The buttons feel like they might end up getting stuck after a while.

If you’re looking for an ABC watch to use periodically then this is a good mid-range option. When it works, it works well.

The durability of the buttons and strap won’t hold up to daily use or regular outdoor activity.

What We Like

  • Good accuracy from ABC sensors
  • Large, easily readable display in daylight
  • Uses standard CR2032 batteries so they’re easy to replace
  • A lot of styling choices

What We Don't Like

  • It’s really big
  • Straps and buttons aren’t very good quality
  • Too dim for night-time use

This is one tough watch! From the non-reflective, scratch resistant mineral glass to the carbon fibre strap, everything about this watch is built to last. It is seriously big though.

The crown is massive which makes it easy to use but gets in the way a little when bending your wrist. It’s great to be able to use the crown to navigate the options and settings without having to press any other buttons.

The thermometer is a nice feature but it will only give you an accurate temperature reading when it’s off your wrist.

It’s got great ABC features which perform accurately even above 8000 feet but there’s a bit of a learning curve.

We liked the analog / digital look and how the hands automatically move out of the way of the digital display when changing settings.

What We Like

  • Solar powered so the battery last for ages
  • Atomic clock keeps time super accurately and you never have to set it
  • Waterproof and extremely rugged and tough
  • Built in thermometer
  • Strap is really good quality and built to last
  • Intuitive, easy to use interface

What We Don't Like

  • Big and bulky with a large crown
  • Watch hands aren’t luminescent enough to read in the dark
  • A bit expensive considering that there’s no GPS

If you’re a fan of Casio but want a watch with a little more elegance then you’ll love the PRG-510.

The functions are fairly easy to navigate but it you’re going to need to read the manual a few times.

While it looks really elegant it’s been designed to survive tough conditions. The strap is titanium and the tough glass is slightly recessed to give it extra protection from scratching. Even though it’s super tough it is extremely light and comfortable to wear.

As with other Casio ABC watches you get endless battery life because it’s solar powered and accurate data from the Triple Sensor.

Sadly, not only does this watch look expensive, it is expensive.

What We Like

  • Beautiful design makes this watch suitable for any occasion
  • Really light in spite of how much functionality they packed in
  • Titanium strap and tough glass make this watch almost indestructible
  • Accurate atomic-sync timekeeping

What We Don't Like

  • Seriously high price tag

Our Favorite

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak is our top pick.

Not only does it look good but it delivers excellent ABC performance, GPS functionality, smartwatch features and fitness tracking while still delivering a decent battery life performance.

It’s not the cheapest, nor the most expensive ABC watch but then again, it has more features than you’d get from some of the more expensive options.

The ability to customize it, the accuracy of the ABC sensors and the great data displays make this our favorite.

Whilst we love the Tissot and the Garmins, we don't feel that the extra price tag is worth it.​

Best for Budget

If you want a cheap ABC watch that actually works then the Lad Weather Compass Altimeter Barometer Watch is a solid choice.

You get ascent and descent tracking and accurate ABC data in a watch that costs a fraction of some of the others we reviewed.

The resolution of some of the measurements like the altimeter are really impressive too.

It’s not as tough as the more expensive watches and you need to be careful not to scratch the screen but it’s a good option if you’re looking for an entry level ABC watch.

ABC Watch Buying Guide

ABC watches vary in price and features from very expensive fully loaded devices to cheap watches with basic functionality. Understanding the different features will help you understand what features are important for the kinds of activities you’ll be engaging in.

​Altimeter

If you want to know your height above sea level then you’re going to need an altimeter.

Most ABC watches rely on atmospheric pressure to calculate your altitude. Altimeter watches with GPS will sometimes use GPS data to get a more accurate reading.

Check the period that your altimeter logs at. Some will only log the altitude every hour while others will give you a better resolution.

Also, if you’re planning on spending time on some serious peaks you need to make sure what the top end of your altimeter is.

There doesn’t seem to be a standard maximum height above sea level that they all aim for.

Most good watches will give you a graph of your ascent and descent, which can be great for training purposes. You need to decide whether you need pinpoint accuracy of your elevation (for example to find your way to a high camp in a snowstorm) or whether it’s idle curiosity of how high you are.

Because atmospheric pressure changes with weather events as well as with altitude, you will need to calibrate the altimeter before you set off, and during your hike.

Altitude is measured by the drop in barometric air pressure between where you are, and the baseline for sea level. However, a sudden drop in barometric pressure can happen as a result of a weather front.

So don’t assume you are going mad if you are idly sitting on a rock having your lunch and suddenly your watch thinks you’ve ascended 1000 feet! Do calibrate manually whenever possible if accuracy is important to you.

Barometer

The important info you want from your barometer isn’t the current pressure but rather what the trend in the pressure has been over a period of time.

Keeping an eye on changes in atmospheric pressure will give you a good idea of what the weather is going to do.

If your barometer indicates a rise in pressure then you should be in for some good weather. If the pressure drops then it means there’s some bad weather on its way.

If you’re wondering whether or not to take on that next peak or if it’s time to turn around and head back to camp then this is some good info to have.

Basically, if pressure is dropping, a storm is likely on it’s way. Some watches have storm alarms which, as the name suggests, alerts you when there is a drop in air pressure over the course of a short time which would indicate that a storm is likely on it’s way.

Storm Alerts are handy, since you ought to be hiking, not staring at your watch all day!

Compass​

Most ABC watches will use a 3-axis digital compass that will work regardless of the orientation of the watch.

Check the resolution of the compass if you need very precise readings for your navigation. Also, remember that the compass will automatically align with magnetic north.

For accurate navigation you need to set the declination so that the compass shows you true north. The declination ​is the difference between true and magnetic north and it varies from place to place.

Some topographic maps will indicate the declination for that area or you will need to look it up online.

​Interface

It doesn’t help if your watch is capable of measuring all kinds of data if it’s difficult to access it. You want the interface to be intuitive and easy to use.

Make sure that the info you’re after is accessible with one or two button presses rather than having to dive in deep through menus.

Buttons

Make sure that the button layout works for you, especially if you’re a lefty.

Also, if you go out in the cold you’re going to want to be sure those buttons are glove friendly otherwise you’ll be pushing two at once.

Large, well-spaced buttons work best.

Screen

The display needs to be clear enough even in sunlight so that you don’t have to stop and squint to read it.

Some watches these days use negative displays (white on black) which looks really cool but some people find them harder to read than the conventional positive LCD displays.

A decent size screen will make it easier to see in poor weather, even though it can feel a bit bulky if you have a small wrist.

Make sure the glass is tough enough so that it doesn’t scratch up  - mineral glass displays are the most durable, being heat-hardened. These kinds of displays cost more but a dim, scratched up display renders the watch useless.

Strap

A rubber strap tends to work best for outdoor pursuits, being comfortable and flexible. A strap with a lot of holes makes for easy adjustability, and getting a strap that’s long enough so you can wear the watch on the outside of your clothes is handy for when the weather is bad.

Leather and metal are other options, personally I find the metal ones to be the most durable, but the least comfortable.

Accuracy

If you want bragging rights then by all means, go for the most accurate ABC watch.

You’re going to pay for it though.

Decide which measurement is most important for your specific needs. Some watches will have spot on compasses but their altimeter may be a little off or vice-versa.

In this respect, perfect can be the enemy of good enough.

Most ABC watches these days are pretty accurate and it’s generally their other features that would be the differentiator.

There is a difference between going climbing in remote mountainous regions and wanting a watch that logs your average day hike.

GPS

Having a GPS built into the ABC watch can be a great help. It saves you trying to check your map every few minutes if it allows for route planning and the track back feature makes it easy to find your way back, even in the dark.

Having a built-in GPS does come at the price of battery life. GPS functionality chews through batteries, so do ensure you’ve recharge potential on your way. If you’re going to go for a GPS enabled watch then pay close attention to real battery life, not just what the manufacturer claims.

Some watches allow you to connect to apps (Garmin, Movescount, Strava) and track every nuance of your hike or your fitness program, and those that allow you to upload routes can dispense with a handheld GPS

Thermometer

Some watches feature a thermometer, which is useful if you are having an argument with your tent-mate about how cold it is.

Do be aware that the most accurate reading will be had by taking the watch off. That way it’s not picking up your body temperature.

Sunrise/Sunset Times

Knowing how many hours of daylight you’ve got can help you plan your hiking - this is particularly useful if you are in a National Park that has curfews or are hunting/fishing and need to stay within a certain time range.

I particularly like knowing how many hours I’ve got available for sleep!

 Water Resistance

It’s no good having a watch that pretends to be rugged and outdoorsy if it can’t withstand doing the dishes.

At the very least you’ll want one rated to 30m or more - note that this won’t allow you to actually immerse the watch to 30m.

If you are planning on doing some water activity such as Kayaking or swimming, I’d pick one that’s water resistant to 100m, although 50m would likely be OK.

For diving, you’ll want something rated to over 100m - and honestly, I wouldn’t be going diving in a hiking watch.

Battery Life

This is important. There’s no good to be had relying on a watch if the battery is going to give out every few hours. Some watches come with a ‘traditional’ watch battery, that lasts a year or more. Those with GPS, fitness trackers and social media connectivity take a lot of power and will need to be charged - either by solar or by USB.

Solar powered watches are pretty convenient unless you’re hiking in the Arctic during Polar night, as many require as little as ten minutes a day to stay charged.

USB charged watches are a bit more annoying as you’ve got yet another lead and a portable battery charger to carry with you.

Note that battery life is significantly compromised in the cold. If you are going up a decent size mountain where temperatures are below freezing, you’ll need to keep your batteries warm as well as charging them more often. 

Heart Rate Monitor/Fitness Tracking

For those of us who like to track every metric available, some watches come with a heart rate monitor (either a chest strap or a built-in wrist monitor) that allows you to track your heart rate and calorie burn. Getting one with these features means you can get rid of your Fitbit once and for all!

Smartphones, Apps & Connectivity

I still remember the days of going hiking or camping without so much as a walkie-talkie, let alone a telephone - much less a smartphone.

Of course these days you can pretty much have your watch post to Facebook for you and message your mom. Well, perhaps not quite. 

Just be aware that these features drain your battery pretty quickly. Bluetooth and wifi connections mean you can download all the data you’ve collected about your trip and boast on social media about how far you’ve trekked and how high you climbed.

Conclusion

If you invest in the best altimeter, barometer, compass watch and use it in conjunction with a good relief map then it can save you having to carry a handheld GPS device.

How helpful that information will be really comes down to accuracy and ease of use. If you just like the idea of knowing where north is or having a fair idea of your height above sea level then a cheap ABC watch will do.

If you want something reliable and accurate that you can use to make key hiking and climbing decisions then spend a few more dollars and get the best ABC watch that your budget allows for.​

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