Published Sep. 9, 2021

Sport watches are chronically underrated by active, outdoor-loving folks, especially when it comes to the old-school crowd. But dismissing these useful, versatile tools is a mistake. Wearing the right sport watch is like strapping a Swiss Army knife to your wrist. Once you get used to having all those functions at your fingertips, you’ll feel naked without it. Sure, any watch can tell time, but a sport watch can do so much more. A good one will display environmental info like weather conditions, barometric pressure, and altitude. It will also monitor your overall health and fitness by tracking your steps, sleep, heart rate, VO2 max, and more. Best of all are the sport watches with GPS tracking capabilities, so that you can run, work out, and explore anywhere you want without getting lost.

Best of all, these models make it easier to do all the things you love, like hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. Because smart sport watches can do almost as much as your smartphone (and sometimes more), you don’t have to worry about extra screen time interfering with your time outdoors. Just charge your watch, and get after it.

Best Sport Watch for Hunting and Fishing: Garmin Instinct Solar

Key Features

  • Solar charging extends already-long battery life
  • Robust GPS tracking and navigation
  • At 45 x 45 x 15.3 mm in size, this watch isn’t too bulky
  • Five different model types (Standard, Tactical, Camo, Esports, Surf) in 18 colors

Why It Made The Cut

The Garmin Instinct Solar is an intuitive, dependable smart watch with a long battery life. The Camo Edition we tested has all the functionality a back 40 or backcountry hunter or angler needs—without complex controls.

Pros & Cons 

Pros:

  • Extraordinary battery life (up to 54 days in smartwatch mode)
  • Versatile yet lightweight compared to other robust sport watches (1.9 ounces) 
  • Intuitive controls and options navigation
  • Outdoorsman-specific tools like Hunt and Fish modes, area calculation, inReach pairing, and more

Cons:

  • Solar charge extends battery life, but it can’t recharge a dead watch
  • Finish on face and strap can wear over time with hard use

Product Description

The Garmin Instinct Solar has all the requisite features of a smart activity tracker, including smartphone and GPS pairing, plenty of sport modes, and tracking monitors for heart rate, steps, sleep, and stress levels. These come in handy for everything from casual daily use to training for a backcountry big-game hunt. Special touches for outdoorsmen and women include Hunt and Fish modes and sun/moon tracking, plus tools like a compass, barometer, and altimeter.

This is the best sport watch for hunting and fishing, and anyone who’s moderately active; the Camo edition is especially useful for hardcore hunters, anglers, and campers who might as well live outside. The Garmin Instinct Solar has excellent GPS features compared to most sport watches, and it can handle everything from tracking your trail run to navigating you back to camp and pairing with a Garmin inReach device. The Instinct Solar requires infrequent charging, which makes it low maintenance and useful in remote areas, especially when the battery saver mode is activated. Pro tip: Select the watch face skin with the sunrise-sunset read out for quick reference—it’s a game changer during hunting season.

Best GPS Watch: Garmin Fenix 6 Solar Pro

Key Features

  • 42mm, 47mm, 51mm case size
  • Up to 36 days of solar-charged expedition GPS activity 
  • Personalized training recommendations
  • Uses satellite GPS and runs GPX maps on screen

Why It Made The Cut

The Fenix 6 Solar Pro is the most comprehensive and sophisticated GPS watch I have ever used. It is comfortable, extremely durable, with an impressive battery life that I feel comfortable relying on in the backcountry. 

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • GPS and GPX capabilities
  • Strong battery life with solar charging
  • Personalized suggested daily workouts based on previous activity and training goals

Cons:

  • Not worth the steep price tag if you’re not going to use its unique features
  • Due to its range of capabilities, it takes time and research to get the hang of

Product Description

The Fenix 6 Solar Pro is meant for adventures. Equipped with a satellite GPS and compatible with Garmin BaseCamp and Garmin IQ apps/widgets, this watch gives you the tools to navigate various activities and terrain. I have downloaded GPX maps for hikes with some difficult route-finding, and my Fenix has kept me on track. It comes loaded with a range of sport-tracking functions, and a key “expedition mode” that will keep you on course on a long trip for up to 36 days. Notably, the Fenix tracks your training and sets goals for your next workout, ranging from high-intensity anaerobic training to much-needed rest days. 

After almost a month of use, this watch continues to impress me. But it’s expensive, to say the least. Even if you get the standard model of the Fenix 6 without premium features, you’re still looking at a major investment. If you just want a sport watch that’ll track your activity and connect to your phone, maybe go with something simpler, without the functions you don’t want to pay for. If you have your eye on the best GPS watch, however, look no further. I will never go outside without downloading GPX maps onto my Fenix 6 again.

Best Lifestyle Watch: Apple Watch Series 6

Key Features

  • 40mm, 42mm case size
  • Touch screen with one button/dial
  • Multi-sport functions with health metrics
  • Wide variety of color options

Why It Made The Cut

The Apple Watch is intuitive and user friendly. With a touch screen, one button, and multiple health-measurement functions, it’s a great watch to listen to music, monitor your health, stay connected, and track your daily activity.

Pros & Cons 

Pros:

  • Easy to operate without instructions
  • Music feature: can toggle easily while running and access all of your playlists with cell service
  • Can send/receive texts, calls, and other notifications
  • Colorful, bright, and clear screen

Cons:

  • The “activity rings” are hyper-focused on calories and less on training
  • Sub-par battery life compared to market
  • Must add an additional cell phone line to you plan to use text, call, and notification features when not in range of iPhone

Product Description

The Apple Watch Series 6’s bright and clear display really sets it apart from all luxury sport watches. It comes in a variety of colors and bands, is easy to use, and keeps you connected on all your devices and platforms. It is water resistant up to 50 meters, and offers a wide variety of health metrics and activity-tracking features. This watch does, however, need to be charged nightly to avoid dying mid-activity the following day. 

As the best lifestyle watch, the Apple Watch is a great product for working out and staying connected. I would not choose this watch, however, for someone whose main activities take them deep into the outdoors. This is mainly credited to its low battery life. Additionally, when testing two Apple Watch Series 6s at the same time on a hike, they reported very different distances and paces (with a gpx map as the control). But for someone who exercises and recreates casually, it could be a great watch for you, especially given Apple has added a wide range of health-tracking functions over its models, such as pulse-ox, heart rate, and sleep monitoring. But if you’re heading out into the backcountry or want greater GPS capabilities, something else on this list may better appeal to you. 

Best Sport Watch for Tracking Weather: Suunto Baro 9 Titanium

Key Features

  • Sporty-yet-sleek titanium watch available in 10 color and strap options
  • Detailed barometer readouts and weather functions, perfect for the weather-obsessed
  • More than 80 sport modes, plus app pairing with popular fitness apps like Strava, MapMyRun, and more
  • The watch measures 50 x 50 x 16.5 mm and weighs 2.36 oz.

Why It Made The Cut

The Suunto Baro 9 Titanium is the best sport watch for tracking weather. This premium sport watch is packed with the hi-tech functionality you’d expect, plus surprisingly handy weather features for active folks who like to keep tabs on weather conditions.

Pros & Cons 

Pros:

  • Attractive, responsive touch screen
  • Minimal buttons with a sleek interface
  • Lots of versatility packed into one watch
  • Bonus features like navigation

Cons:

  • Navigating the watch’s functions isn’t immediately intuitive
  • GPS acquisition and heart rate readings are slower than other models

Product Description

The Suunto Baro Peak 9 is a health-tracking sport watch for active, athletic folks who constantly check their weather app. It provides a detailed barometer reading on the default watch face skin for constant monitoring alongside the time, altitude, and a beautifully-designed sunrise-sunset chart that mirrors the barometer dial. Despite the titanium construction, I was able to chip the granite blue finish on our test model after just one week of use, but the sapphire glass is holding up nicely. The Suunto Baro Peak 9 has an excellent reputation as an incredible do-it-all sport watch, with useful activity tracking and heat mapping of routes, as well as its compatibility with a variety of apps.

Final Thoughts

Which sport watch is best for you entirely depends on what you want to do with it, and we awarded these four watches based on their strongest functions. If you love to spend time outdoors and you need a reliable GPS, Garmin may be the brand for you. For outdoors people with a need to track the weather, consider the Suunto Baro 9 to stay informed. And if going into the field isn’t your top priority, the Apple Watch 6 is a user-friendly pick that keeps you connected. Once you figure out what you want in a watch, you can’t go wrong with something on this list. 

Methodology 

Folks are in the market for sport watches for different reasons, which range from training for a major race or trip to simply seeking the motivation to get moving. Each of these watches excels for different reasons, catering to users with different priorities and lifestyles. We evaluated the watches in this list based on the following categories:

  • Durability (How well does it hold up over time? Is it waterproof and shockproof?)
  • Sport functions/GPS (Does it have useful, functional sport tracking modes?)
  • Health monitoring functions (Does it track heart rate, steps, etc?)
  • Ergonomics (Is it comfortable to wear for prolonged periods?)
  • Battery (How long does it take to recharge? What’s the battery lifespan in different modes?)
  • Value (Do you get what you pay for?)

Using these categories as guides, we assessed each sport watch’s best audience, and decided if we thought the watch was worth its capabilities and limitations. We did not include all the models we tested because they didn’t make the cut.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Sport Watch

Look for a sport watch that will help you accomplish your goals and that fits your lifestyle. Sport watches can be expensive, so before you start shopping, start by making a list of what activities you do, what watch functions matter most to you, and how much you’re willing to spend. How much will you use your GPS? Are you okay with needing to charge your watch nightly? Do most of your activities take place in the gym or in the backcountry? Once you have the basic outline of your priorities, compare them to the functions each watch meets best, and stay within your budget. Don’t pay for features you don’t need. 

FAQs

Questions—and answers—to help you find the best sport watch for your activities and goals.

Q: Is Garmin more accurate than the Apple Watch?

GPS is what Garmin does best. Not only do Garmin watches give you access to satellite maps out of cell phone signal, you also have the ability to download GPX maps directly from the computer program Garmin BaseCamp (or make your own routes). I had the opportunity to follow a clear and direct trail wearing the Fenix 6 (with a preloaded GPX map) and two different Apple Watch 6s, and not only did the Fenix accurately track pace and mileage, the two Series 6 watches were different from both the Fenix and from one another.

Q: What is the best multisport watch?

We’ll say it again. Garmin’s GPS is superior to anything on the market. From hunting and fishing to climbing and mountain biking, Garmin can do it all. In the outdoors, the Instinct can take a true beating with its military-standard toughness, and in the gym the Fenix even gives you preloaded animated workouts right on the screen. There’s really nothing this brand can’t do.

Q: What’s the best sport watch for runners? 

If all you’re planning to do is run—on track, trails, or the sidewalk — there’s no reason to pay top dollar for a Garmin Fenix model or the heat mapping of the Suunto Baro 9. Instead, consider the Garmin Solar Instinct, which requires minimal charging (ideal for frequent runners who use the battery-draining GPS tracking) and has the easy, reliable tracking of time-tested Garmin GPS functionality.

Outdoor Life Values

Outdoor Life editors don’t just enjoy hunting and fishing as hobbies—the pursuit of these passions make us who we are. Our writers are diehard outdoorsmen and women, too. For more than a century, OL has been evaluating the latest and greatest outdoor gear and providing our readers with no-B.S. reviews. We test products in the field under real-world conditions. We write about the pros and cons of every product we review so that you know exactly what you’re getting if you decide to purchase the gear we cover. Only the best hunting, fishing, backpacking, camping, and survival gear will make the cut in our reviews and roundups. If we’re covering it, you know it’s legit.

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