Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar Review
From the backcountry to the everyday, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar has you covered
There is truly nothing I would be looking for in a sport watch that the Garmin Fēnix 6 Pro Solar doesn’t offer. It’s comfortable, sleek, and has more capabilities than any GPS watch I have ever encountered, with solar charging that keeps it powered for days at a time. After using the Fenix 6 to summit multiple Colorado 14ers, navigate in the dark, and track my training while recovering from an injury, I couldn’t be more impressed.
Garmin Fenix 6s Pro Solar Specs
- Case sizes: 42mm, 47mm, 51mm
- Display: Power Glass. No touch screen, color display
- Battery life: Depending on activities. Smartwatch up to 16 days with solar, GPS+ music up to 10 hours, expedition GPS activity up to 36 days with solar.
- Charge Time: Approximately 2.5 hours to fully charge
- Water resistance: 100 meters
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi. Compatible with iPhone, Android, Garmin Connect, Garmin IQ, and Garmin BaseCamp
- Health monitoring: Heart rate, pulse ox, sleep, hydration, women’s health, body battery
- Memory/history: 32 GB
- GPS: Yes, with ability to download GPX maps from Garmin BaseCamp
- Safety features: Incident detection during select activities, assistance, live event sharing, LiveTrack/group LiveTrack
What Makes a Good Sport Watch?
“Good” is incredibly subjective; everyone’s activities and goals are different from the next person’s, from training for an Iron Man, to running four miles for the first time, to just wanting encouragement to move once an hour. So, for the sake of this specific review, let me tell you a little about myself, what I’m looking for in a GPS smartwatch, and how the Fenix fits these criteria.
The first thing I look for in the best sport watch is a GPS I am confident in, with the ability to upload and follow my own GPX maps. I live in Colorado, and I initially became interested in this Garmin smartwatch for hikes and climbs that may have challenging route finding, as well as for multi-day backpacking trips. For a GPS watch to do this successfully, it must have at least more than a day’s worth of battery life. As someone who runs almost daily, I need a watch that is going to accurately track mile times with music capabilities and is compatible with Bluetooth headphones. Data collection is great, but I want to be able to do something with it. In a sports watch, training data and goal setting are more important to me than features that a lot of watches offer, like calorie count and general fitness encouragement.
I received a Fenix 6 Pro Solar test unit from Garmin, and throughout this review, I will objectively test and critique the product on the above criteria. I unboxed the Fenix 6 — intentionally — without much knowledge of the product, and this review is my experience learning the watch in real time.
Garmin Fenix 6s First Impressions
You need to put time into learning this watch. I spent an afternoon reading the user guide, studying Garmin’s website, watching YouTube tutorials/reviews, and reading Reddit threads about the watch’s features. This device is worth your time and energy; once you start doing research, you realize how much there is for you to learn, unpack, and benefit from. If you’re going to own the best GPS watch on the market, you better put the time into learning how to use it.
Testing the GPS On the Mountain
There are a few key things in this world I’m exceptionally bad at. And as an outdoors person, I’m embarrassed to admit staying on trail is one of them. So, with my baseline being constantly needing a map, I was eager to get outside with the Fenix’s GPS.
To put the GPS capabilities to the true (but safe) test, I downloaded the GPX maps from Garmin BaseCamp for a local 14,000ft mountain I had never hiked before. Going solo on a weekday morning, I knew I would be one of the few hikers on the mountain and unlikely to be following anyone once I got moving. Having read a description of the route — knowing it was in my comfort zone — I decided to rely on the Fenix 6 to show me the way. What’s unique about this peak is its proximity to a nearby mining town, so the route is filled with abandoned structures, roads, and trails that were not the summit trail. The GPX map I downloaded to my Fenix kept me directly on the trail the entire time — despite me being convinced to go another direction — and even notified me when I was veering off course.
While I wouldn’t blanket-recommend solo hiking (especially at high altitude with some exposure), at my experience level, I felt very comfortable solo while using the Garmin Fenix 6s (with its emergency features in mind) for directions on this trail. On another mountain that same week, a group and I found ourselves off trail around 4:30 a.m.. In the thick of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, it only took a few moments to get back on course because the Fenix showed us we had just crossed the creek too early, and navigated back to the trail on the screen.
In terms of navigation, I’ve definitely pushed this watch to its limit. Even on wide open scree fields where you still have to study the route and bring a map other than the Fenix, the Fenix still served as a general guide up some loose, Class 3 (scrambling, rugged, un-roped climbing) terrain. While I couldn’t rely on the Fenix as my sole guide at this level of hiking, I am still glad I had to give me an overview of the route as I decided which lines to take.
The Fenix has actively enhanced my hiking experience, and is the best GPS watch for hiking I have used. And if you’re looking to do an extended backpacking trip, “Expedition Mode” collects your GPS points once an hour, and can last you 36 days in the backcountry.
Testing the Fenix 6 off the Mountain
It’s incredibly boring running around the park next to my house every day, and this summer, I found my training plateauing out of boredom. With limited time to get a run in during the day, coming up with new routes is sometimes unrealistic. But not only does the Fenix suggest to you the kind of run you should be doing that day based on your previous activity and training goals, it also generates courses for you based on your current location, how far you want to run, and if you want a roundtrip or one way.
And when you take it indoors, the Garmin Fenix 6s excels just as well. In the climbing gym, the watch differentiates indoor climbing (top rope, lead, etc.) and bouldering. When I took the Fenix bouldering at a local climbing gym, it gave me the option to log each route I was climbing by its degree of difficulty and save each one. This felt a little labor intensive, so I just paused and started one route at one degree of difficulty because I knew that would be my average for that day. When used to its fullest extent, however, you can get extremely accurate data about your climbs, and use it to set goals on the same or similar routes.
Another key feature of the Fenix has preloaded, animated workouts under its “Strength” activity, like “30-Minute Blast,” and “Maximize Your Upper Body” (not to mention its animated yoga classes). For “Free” strength workout, similar to the bouldering wall, it feels a little excessive to me to track every single set on my watch, but it’s there if you’d like to keep track of all of your workout’s specifics.
The Fenix’s health-monitoring capabilities are beyond impressive. Since wearing the Fenix regularly, I’ve worked to get to be at a reasonable time and have prioritized my sleep more than I ever have. On top of sleep tracking, the Fenix tracks your Body Battery to determine your current energy levels and how long you’ll take to recover from a workout. You can also track your heart rate and pulse ox, the weather, your notifications, and play your offline music all on your main menu screen. Via the GarminConnect app, you can also log your hydration and track your menstrual cycle.
Garmin knows all of these factors affect training for whatever your sport of choice is. It shows you via your suggested workouts, Body Battery, and training status where your activity should be for that day. It’s a fitness tracker, running watch, GPS, and more all in one — “smartwatch” is an understatement.
What the Fenix 6 Does Best
If you consider yourself an athlete of any variety, the Fenix 6 can provide you with not only so much insight into your own body, but also with the tools to navigate various activities and terrain. Not only have I gained that from my time training, the Fenix 6 has given me a sense of security in exploring Colorado, and as I explained above, I will never go on a trip again without first downloading a GPX map on my Garmin.
I can’t write this review without expanding on one key feature of the Garmin Fenix 6s: its daily “recommended workouts.” Unlike some fitness watches that increase your calorie and exercise goals every week you hit your previous goals (until they become unachievable), the Fenix tells me when I am overdoing it and need to take a recovery day or maintain my current activity level. Especially since I have been testing the Fenix on top of recovering from an ankle injury, I have been trying to stay in my “maintaining” and “recovery” zone to make sure I am not risking re-injuring myself. I’ve established a lower “base” than usual due to injury, so as I’ve started to recover and increase my intensity, the Fenix is helping me do it gradually.
If you asked anyone else to write this review, their activities, categories, and highlights would look completely different. There is so much to explore, and there’s so much room to make this watch work for you in the ways you need it. Being landlocked, I’ve never used the surf function, nor have I ever golfed before, and yet I feel like I am getting full use out of this uniquely versatile device even if I’m only scratching the surface of activities.
What the the Fenix 6 Does Worst
The Garmin Fenix 6s is expensive, to say the least. Even if you get the standard model without premium features, you’re still looking at a major investment. If you’re just looking for a watch that’ll track your activity and connect to your phone, maybe go with something more intuitive and with less functions that you wouldn’t be using anyway.
What’s the Verdict on the Garmin Fenix 6s?
If any of the above review sounds like you — and you have the means — then yes, any variety of the Fenix 6 is the best smartwatch for you (with the Fenix 6 Solar Pro at the top of the list). I cannot speak more highly of this watch, and that’s only after one month of use this summer. So, stay tuned for what the Fenix 6 Solar Pro does in the snow. I’ll see you in February with my ski resort maps loaded and snowshoe GPX uploaded and ready to go.