10 Best GPS Watches for Hiking & Backpacking of 2024

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Closeup of the Coros Apex 2 GPS Watch on a backpacker's wrist with steep mountains in the background
Coros Apex 2 – Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

A GPS watch is a powerful tool for navigation, tracking progress during workouts, and so much more. This tech gives you the ability to monitor not only your coordinates but things like elevation, heart rate, calories burned, and sleeping patterns, so you can get an accurate snapshot of your overall fitness level.

Whether you’re looking for a mapping device, an advanced watch for marathon training, or a simple tracker, we’ve got you covered. We researched and tested 30 of the hottest GPS watches to find the top performers with the best battery life, smart features, and user interface. In this guide, we’ll navigate you to the best GPS watch for your budget and needs.

If you’ll be out on trail for a while, you can keep your tech charged with one of the best power banks for backpacking. If you’re training for a race, we also have you covered with running vests and our favorite energy bars for staying fueled up on race day.

Quick Picks for GPS Watches

Check out this quick list of our favorites, or continue scrolling to see our full list of the best GPS watches with in-depth reviews.

Best GPS watch overall: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar ($400)

Best budget running watch: Coros Pace 3 ($229)

Best budget fitness tracker with a user-friendly interface: Fitbit Charge 6 ($160)

Best running watch for triathletes: Garmin Forerunner 955 ($500)

Best value running watch: Coros Apex 2 ($349)

Best value smartwatch with a ton of fitness features: Garmin Venu 2 ($400)

Upgraded GPS watch with a long battery life: Garmin fenix 7 ($650)

Powerful running watch that provides custom training plans: Polar Vantage V2 ($500)

What’s new

The CleverHiker team has been keeping up with the latest tech and testing new watches against our trusty go-tos:

  • The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar remains our top pick for its unrivaled battery life, simple use interface, and powerful processing.

  • The Apple Watch Series 9 is out. This new model features a brighter screen and more powerful smart features.

  • The Coros Pace 3 takes our number two spot and title of best budget running watch. This affordable gadget includes many features found on premium GPS watches at a fraction of the price.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

Best GPS watch overall

Price: $400

Avg. Battery Life: 28 days in smartwatch mode, 30 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended with solar charging or in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Hiking & mountain sports, but it’s exceptional for most activities


  • User friendly
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Lightweight & comfortable
  • Waterproof to 100 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • Solar charges in bright sunllight
  • Many sports profiles


  • A little bulky (Instinct Solar 2S is better for smaller wrists)
  • Sleep tracking isn’t as accurate as some

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar delivers amazing battery life and exceptional functionality for mountain adventurers. With its innovative solar charging capabilities, the Instinct can go the distance for multi-day races and extended backcountry trips. The watch face can be customized to show data for a huge array of activities, and the companion app (Garmin Connect) organizes it all into an easy-to-digest format for tracking your workout progress, hiking routes, and more. While its on-screen maps aren’t as sophisticated as those of the Garmin fenix 7 and Garmin Forerunner 955, we find the significant money savings worth the exclusion of topo data on the watch itself for most applications.

Coros Pace 3

Best budget running watch

Price: $229

Avg. Battery Life: 24 days in smartwatch mode, 40 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Runners on a budget who don’t mind ditching smartwatch features, like a touchscreen, for upgraded activity tracking


  • Affordable
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Good price for the features
  • Very accurate GPS
  • Waterproofto 50 M
  • Comfortable
  • Breathable wristband
  • Easy to use
  • Excellent companion app


  • Not as attractive if you prefer smartwatch style

The Coros Pace 3 offers incredible functionality for the price. It comes with premium features, like triathlon training, extended battery life, and the unique “muscle heat map” that shows you which parts of your body have been getting the most workout love – all for about half the price of other GPS watches. The Coros companion app is also one of our favorites since it’s so clean and easy to navigate. This watch isn’t the most “techie” one on the market, but it’s a welcome simplification for those who aren’t interested in all the latest smartwatch capabilities. Overall, we’re really impressed with the Coros Pace 3, and it’s an awesome value buy for runners looking for an easy, yet powerful watch.

Fitbit Charge 6

Best budget fitness tracker with a user-friendly interface

Price: $160

Avg. Battery Life: 7 days in smartwatch mode, 5 hrs. in GPS mode

Best For: Those looking for something simple to track casual fitness/wellness goals


  • Affordable
  • Very user-friendly
  • Accurate sleep tracking
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • Easy to change watch bands & there are plenty to choose from


  • Included watch band isn’t as comfortable as others (we recommend switching to a woven band)
  • Battery life isn’t as good as some
  • Some features require a paid subscription
  • Arched wristband is harder to get accurate fit than hinged

The Fitbit Charge 6 is an excellent choice for those wanting a simple and affordable watch to track everyday wellness stats and casual workout routines. One of the standout features of the Charge is its highly-accurate sleep tracking capabilities, which help you get the best night’s rest. Some of the more advanced sleep tracking data and other features, like breathing exercises for de-stressing, require a paid subscription. This will eat into the savings of the base price of the Charge, but we find the baseline functionality to be plenty helpful for day-to-day fitness tracking. The Charge 5 is the most user-friendly of all the GPS watches we tested, and the companion app is equally elegant and easy to navigate.

Garmin Forerunner 955

Best running watch for triathletes

Price: $500

Avg. Battery Life: 15 days in smartwatch mode, 42 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Runners & triathletes looking for advanced mapping capabilities


  • Excellent value
  • Good battery life
  • A ton of sports profiles
  • More sleek & comfy than other large watches
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • Highly customizable data fields


  • Expensive
  • Not as user-friendly as some
  • Sleep tracking not as accurate as some

The Garmin Forerunner 955 is very similar to the Garmin fenix 7, but we find it to be quite a bit more comfy for activities like running thanks to its lightweight casing and less bulky bezel. The specs for these two watches are nearly identical, but the Forerunner surprisingly has more advanced features – like incident detection and better body performance stats – at a lower price. Most notably, it comes preloaded with advanced topo maps that would cost extra money on the fenix 7. With some of the most robust progress tracking and race performance prediction capabilities on the market, the Forerunner 955 is the ultimate GPS watch for triathletes.

Coros Apex 2

Best value running watch

Price: $349

Avg. Battery Life: 17 days in smartwatch mode, 45 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Trail runners & triathletes, but it’s amazing for pretty much any activity


  • Exceptional battery life
  • Good price for the features
  • Very accurate GPS
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • User-friendly
  • Highly customizable
  • More stylish then other sport watches


  • Lacks some smartwatch features

The Coros Apex 2 comes with premium features, like topo maps and triathlon training, that are typically only found in higher-end watches with price tags upwards of $500, so it’s an awesome value. It’s a nice upgrade over the Coros Pace 3 since it supports more activities like trail running routes, mountain climbing, and snowsports. And it’s more durable and stylish than the Pace with its aluminum bezel. We also tried a few of Coros’s free downloadable athlete coaching programs, which we found helpful for daily toning and strength training. With its awesome battery life, fully customizable data sets, and premium sport profiles, the Coros Apex is a great choice for dedicated runners and triathletes.

Garmin Venu 2

Best value smartwatch with a ton of fitness features

Price: $400

Avg. Battery Life: 5 days in smartwatch mode, 20 hrs. in GPS mode

Best For: 5 days in smartwatch mode, 20 hrs. in GPS mode


  • Stylish
  • Excellent features for price
  • Beautiful color display
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • Intuitive interface


  • Sleep tracking not as accurate as some
  • AMOLED display lowers battery life

The Garmin Venu 2 is a sleek-looking smartwatch that’s packed to the gills with fitness features not often found at this price point. It has the most attractive display of any watch on our list, and we love that it can be worn any time any day without looking like we just got finished with a trail run. With a plethora of preloaded and downloadable guided workouts, like yoga, pilates, and breathing exercises, the Venu gives you the power of a personal trainer right on your wrist. If you’re looking for a watch with a great balance of smartwatch and fitness features, the Garmin Venu is our top value pick.

MORE: The Garmin Vivoactive 5 is very similar to the Venu but has a slightly less attractive color display to enhance battery life in smartwatch mode, and it offers more storage for fitness data. If you want a little more dedicated computing power for the fitness side of things, go with the equally stylish Vivoactive 5.

Garmin fenix 7

Upgraded GPS watch with a long battery life

Price: $650

Avg. Battery Life: 18 days in smartwatch mode, 57 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Backcountry sports & hiking, but its amazing for pretty much any activity


  • Good battery life
  • Detailed on-screen maps
  • A ton of sports profiles
  • Waterproof up to 100 m
  • Excellent companion app
  • Highly customizable data fields


  • Expensive
  • Not as user-friendly as some
  • Sleep tracking not as accurate as some

With unrivaled detail in its onboard mapping, the Garmin fenix 7 is the ultimate backcountry navigation tool. It comes with the ability to navigate on color maps and has more dedicated screen space for viewing them than the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, so it’s a worthwhile upgrade if you have the extra $250 to spend. The fenix 7 also features one of the most extensive lists of supported activities – from all things running, biking, and swimming to less common inclusions like surfing, snowsports (with preloaded resort maps), and bouldering. The interface of the fenix 7 took us a little longer to master because of its wide range of capabilities, but we love that it allows you to tailor the data fields and menus to your specific needs. The fenix 7 is perfect for those needing a diverse pool of activity profiles and powerful mapping capabilities.

Polar Vantage V2

Powerful running watch that provides custom training plans

Price: $500 (often on sale for a bit less)

Avg. Battery Life: 7 days in smartwatch mode, 40 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Runners wanting a training assistant for marathons


  • Good battery life in GPS mode
  • Very accurate GPS
  • More sleek & comfy than other large watches
  • A ton of sport profiles
  • Waterproof to 100 m
  • More user-friendly than other premium watches
  • Generates personalized training plans


  • Expensive
  • Arched wristband is harder to get accurate fit than hinged
  • Companion app isn’t as detailed as some

The Polar Vantage V2 adds a wide array of performance tests that personalize your recovery metrics and heart rate zones for a nice upgrade over Polar’s popular Vantage M and Vantage V watches. Some of the standout features of the Vantage V2 include the FitSpark training guide, which creates daily personalized fitness routines for you based on your health stats, and the FuelWise assistant, which gives you reminders to fuel up with carbs and drinks at critical points in your workout routines. It also pulls from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS satellites to deliver some of the most accurate mapping of any GPS watch, but it won’t display them in full detail on the watch itself like the Garmin Forerunner 955 does. Overall, the Vantage V2 offers some of the most powerful tools available for run training in a very user-friendly interface.

Garmin Venu Sq 2

Affordable & user-friendly fitness tracker

Price: $250

Avg. Battery Life: 11 days in smartwatch mode, 26 hrs. In GPS mode

Best For: Those looking for something stylish & easy to use for daily fitness tracking


  • Affordable
  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Beautiful color display,
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Stylish
  • Highly customizable watch face


  • Battery life in GPS mode isn’t as good as some
  • Not as feature-rich as some
  • Plastic housing makes the notification vibrations a bit annoying
  • Doesn’t track stairs
  • Sleep tracking not as accurate as some

The Garmin Venu Sq 2 is very similar in design to the premium Apple Watch Series 9 smartwatch, but it’s considerably more affordable and isn’t confined to Apple’s IOS. We found this watch to be more lightweight and comfortable than other smartwatches, but the plastic housing makes it slightly less durable. While it has the most limited fitness functionality of all the watches on our list, its simple interface is great for tracking yoga workouts and strength training routines at the gym. The Venu Sq is perfect for those wanting a stylish fitness watch that won’t break the bank for casual health tracking.

Stock image of blue Apple Watch Series 9 on a white background

Apple Watch Series 9

Best smartwatch for iPhone users

Price: $399

Avg. Battery Life: 36 hrs. in smartwatch mode, 18 hrs. in GPS mode

Best For: iPhone users looking for a smartwatch with tailored IOS integration to track daily fitness stats


  • Stylish
  • Easy to change watch bands & there are plenty to choose from
  • Very user friendly
  • Beautiful color display
  • Waterproof to 50 m
  • Can use cellular without having phone nearby
  • Premium fitness tracking features


  • Must own an iPhone to use it
  • Battery doesn’t last very long
  • Surprisingly heavy for how sleek it is

The Apple Watch Series 9 is a powerful smartwatch that gives you many of the most-used capabilities of your iPhone on your wrist. It’s one of the only watches on the market that can be connected to a cellular plan, giving you the ability to access Siri, make calls and texts, and use navigation even without your phone nearby. Surprisingly, it features more advanced health monitoring programs than many of the dedicated fitness watches on our list, like pulse ox and ECG readings. And, an Apple Fitness+ subscription ($80/year) gets you access to guided video workouts on your iPhone, iPad, or AppleTV. The fitness data from your Apple Watch can be imported into this program to monitor health stats in real-time while you complete your workout, and you can track progress over time. For us, the one issue with the Apple Watch is that it only works if you use IOS products. This integration is great for those already using Apple products, but it’s an expensive world to enter for anyone using a different mobile OS.

Suunto 9 Baro

Best GPS watch for endurance athletes

Price: $369

Avg. Battery Life: 7 days in smartwatch mode, 25 hrs. in GPS mode (can be extended in ultra GPS mode)

Best For: Ultrarunners & other endurance athletes who need a watch that will last for multiple days on a single charge


  • Exceptional battery life in GPS mode
  • Waterproof to 100 m
  • Highly accurate GPS
  • More stylish than most performance-focused watches


  • Expensive
  • Step tracker is very sensitive
  • Heavy/bulky
  • Not as user-friendly as some
  • Companion app isn’t great
  • Doesn’t work well for small wrists
  • Must plug into computer for updates

The Suunto 9 Baro was purpose built for endurance athletes who need a watch that can last through a multi-day activity track with GPS. We’re talking ultra-runners and adventure racers who will really put this thing through the paces. Most of the technology innovations of the 9 Baro focus on extending battery life through intelligent settings that optimize consumption for the activity being tracked; it can last up to 120 hours in its most conservative GPS mode. One such innovation is their Fusedtrack feature, which uses algorithms to provide highly accurate GPS data without the need for continuous tracking. While all of this is very impressive, we find this watch to be overkill for most people’s purposes, and the companion app really needs some work.


What’s Most Important to You in a GPS Watch?


A GPS watch can be a big investment, but it’s one that’s sure to provide a lot of value for your active lifestyle. More expensive watches tend to have more in-depth sport tracking capabilities with a ton of fitness and navigation data. Budget-friendly watches are great for those needing a simple fitness tracker for things like counting steps and monitoring heart rate.


There are many different types of GPS watches out there, and it can be difficult to make sense of all the features and specs. Use this quick guide to narrow down which watches will give you the most functionality for the activities you love.

Best GPS watches for hiking

Best smartwatches with fitness features

Best fitness trackers


If you’re running a multi-day race or backpacking a long distance, you’ll want to make sure your watch battery will last as long as possible to track your activity.


You’ll be spending a lot of time wearing your watch, so comfort is an important factor to consider. Watches with hinged wristbands rather than arched wristbands tend to provide a more comfortable and accurate fit. It’s also important to make sure the watch face isn’t too large for your wrist, as this can cause it to feel heavy or cumbersome under long sleeves.


You’ll likely be a pro at using most of your watch’s features after a few days of wearing it, but some are easier to learn than others. Feature-rich multisport watches tend to take a little longer to get the hang of than simple fitness trackers, but the more detailed fitness and navigation data can be well worth it for some.


There’s a lot of crossover between GPS watches and smartwatches. Whether your style is sporty or sophisticated, there’s a watch to suit your tastes.

Best sporty-looking watches

Critical GPS Watch Considerations


A lot of factors go into your watch’s battery consumption, but some of the biggest sucks on battery life include GPS usage, backlight, high-res color displays, and frequency of sensor tracks (heart rate, pulse ox, etc.). Many watches have battery saver modes or different battery usage profiles you can set for the activity you’re tracking. Make sure to look at a watch’s battery life in GPS mode to ensure it’ll work for the types of activities you want to record.



GPS watches use light sensors to track your heart rate. When the light passes through your skin, it measures when a larger volume of blood runs through your wrist and counts that as a heartbeat. This method isn’t as accurate as a chest strap monitor, but here are some tips for getting the best reading possible from your wrist.

Watch fit & placement

Make sure the watch is tight enough on your wrist so that the optical sensors on the underside of the watch always make contact with your skin, but not so tight that it affects circulation. You should be able to move the watch up and down your wrist a little, but your skin should move with it if it’s properly fitted. The ideal placement is on the top side of your wrist above your wrist bone.

Keep the sensors clean

Dirt and sweat can build up on your watch after hard workouts or prolonged periods of wear. Gently wash your watch regularly to get rid of any residue buildup.

Update your watch

In our experience, watch companies are great about keeping software up-to-date on their products. Make sure to periodically check for available updates (usually found under system settings on your watch or in the companion app) as they may include improvements that affect accuracy of data.

Warm up before you start an activity track

If it’s cold out or you’ve been inactive, you may have a smaller volume of blood flowing through your wrists. Doing a quick warm-up exercise before starting an activity track will get your blood pumping more and will improve accuracy.


Dark tattoos can prevent sensor lights from penetrating skin to read your pulse. Switch wrists or change the placement of your watch if you can to avoid the sensors sitting on heavy spots of dark ink.

Chest straps

If having the most accurate heart rate possible is critical for you, you’ll want to get a chest strap heart rate monitor. Check which type of connectivity (bluetooth, ANT+) your watch has to ensure you get a chest strap that is compatible. Here are some of the most popular chest strap heart rate monitors:


Make sure to download the companion app for your watch to get full data analyses and the ability to track progress over time. Many apps also include the ability to download new widgets, watch faces, and workout routines to your watch.



Most GPS watches are compatible with other popular fitness apps like the social training app Strava and the workout building app Training Peaks. Only a few watches support the popular Strava Live Segments feature, which allows you to compete with others or your personal records on a particular running or biking route. If you often use the Live Segments feature, go with one of these watches:

Strava Live Segments compatible GPS watches:


Honorable GPS Watch Mentions

The following GPS watches didn’t make our final list, but they’ve still got a lot of good things going for them. You never know, one of these watches might be perfect for you:

Garmin Vivoactive 5 – A middle ground between a dedicated smartwatch and a running watch. We prefer the Garmin Venu 2 for its upgraded color display.

Fitbit Versa – Attractive smartwatch-style fitness tracker with a user-friendly interface. Ultimately we prefer the Garmin Venu Sq 2 for its smaller price tag and lack of paywall for premium data analysis.

Closeup of a couple wearing windbreakers and the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar and Garmin Venu 2 GPS watches
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar & Garmin Venu 2 – PHOTO CREDIT: CASEY HANDLEY (CLEVERHIKER.COM)