Best outdoor watches 2020: rugged timepieces for adventurers

Find the best watch to wear surfing, diving, hiking or camping from this unique selection of outdoor gems

Best outdoor watches

Outdoor watches have evolved fast. Once vast, cumbersome beasts with battery life measured in minutes are now relatively sleek, powerful devices that range from downright attractive to astonishingly competent. While there are still compromises required - especially on screen size - the modern outdoor watch is not only a vital tool but also helpful daily companion, many delivering full smartwatch functionality as well as emergency navigation.

Overall, it’s hard to not recommend the Garmin Fenix 6, which - although complex - rolls everything from golf to mountaineering into a single wrist-mounted toolbox for every occasion. Whether you run, ski, golf, climb or walk outdoors, this has a place on your wrist. 

However, it is an all-rounder, so we’ve picked out a few specialist watches for different outdoor pursuits to balance the books.

 How to buy the best best outdoor watch for you 

There’s a huge range of outdoor watches on the market, so you’ll want to be clear from the outset just how much technology you really need. Too much and you’ll be out of battery within a couple of days, too little and your training program will suffer. 

For big expedition use, smartwatches and intensive GPS trackers are just too power-hungry, and you’ll want something solar powered or just very simple to keep working in all conditions.

If you’re set on a tracking model, be clear whether you’ll just be tracking your progress for training, or using it as a navigational aid, as the two don’t always go hand in hand.

Models that use GPS and other sensors (such as a barometer) often have better accuracy, but this may chew battery faster. On the bright side, the newest models tend to have a series of settings, so you can balance accuracy with battery life. 

Overall, the best outdoor watch for you depends on what you want to be doing, apart from the Fenix and Suunto 9, which can turn their hand to pretty much any outdoor challenge. Choose wisely, and get out there!

 The best outdoor watches to buy right now 

(Image credit: Garmin)

1. Garmin Fenix 6

The best outdoor watch for pretty much everything

Build: Bezel: Titanium
Weight: 82g
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Battery: 21 days +3 days in smartwatch mode; GPS: up to 60 hours +6 hours
Reasons to buy
+Available in solar-powered model+Tech for all situations+Super rugged
Reasons to avoid
-Bewildering range of options

Garmin have been at the outdoor smartwatch game for a while now, and their latest effort is, well, cheating. We say this because the range of versions of the Fenix 6 is vast - there are 3 case size options, optional music, maps and wifi, sapphire glass and even solar options - it’s more like spec-ing a new car than a watch. In short, the base Fenix 6 models don’t include maps, wifi or music, the pro models do, and add in extras on top.

However, once you’ve surmounted that specification hurdle, the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is a beast of a watch, offering so much functionality that you’ll need a week off just to work it all out. From preloaded ski maps to fitness coaching, golf course maps to underwater wrist-based HR tracking, this watch has it all. 

Particularly strong for outdoors folk is the solar charging function, which will string out battery life to a maximum of 24 days, as is the extensive navigation package that will get you out of trouble with ease - if you have worked out how to set them up. GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems are all supported, and features like ClimbPro (ascent rate monitor), round trip routing and turn by turn navigation will make it very hard to get lost. If you’re looking for the biggest, baddest and spendiest outdoor watch, this is it.

(Image credit: Casio)

2. Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30

The best outdoor watch for everyday wear

Build: Military Tested MIL-STD-810G 1.2 inch Display OLED and Dual Layer Display Monochrome LCD
Weight: 83g
Water resistance: 50 metres
Reasons to buy
+Wear OS Smartwatch +Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Large for a watch, small for a GPS

The Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30 is a standard digital wristwatch with (admittedly barely) hidden GPS and smartwatch trickery designed for the tech savvy outdoorsman. The styling might be somewhat polarising, but the tools are all present and correct. 

Casio has pulled off a clever trick here, by integrating a Wear OS smartwatch with a ‘standard’ digital watch. The core of this trick is the dual layer screen, which enormously extends battery life by displaying normal time/date/etc information on the power saving monochrome, then firing up the thirsty OLED and Wear OS for more complex tasks. 

There’s a host of sensors and transmitters here, GPS, GLONASS & Michibiki, Wifi, Bluetooth, Compass, Altimeter and Barometer as well as the power of Google Play apps such as Viewranger, Runtastic, Spotify and Strava, so most outdoor requirements can be taken care of with the right app - something that less open platforms can struggle with. The charger can be fiddly however, and it is a chunky watch for everyday wear, so it’s worth checking out in person first. 

Best outdoor watches: Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert

3. Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert

High-end, high altitude expedition wristwear

Build: Titanium case and strap
Water resistance: 10 bar
Reasons to buy
+Swiss quartz movement+Solid feature set +Almost unlimited battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No GPS or smart features

The snappily-named Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert ticks a lot of expedition boxes. Robustly built from titanium, the touchscreen face also conceals a solar panel, so there’s no danger of a dead battery in the Karakoram. 

The featureset is strong too, with 25 features including weather forecasting, altimeter, second time zone and a compass built in. Although the latter is probably best saved for real emergencies, the barometer/altimeter function could come in very handy for acclimatising hikes. 

With a range of strap materials on offer to suit all preferences, this is stylish enough for town, but also tough enough for those mountain excursions too.

Best outdoor watches: Victorinox I.N.O.X

4. Victorinox I.N.O.X

Understated survival special

Build: Anti-reflective sapphire crystal, screw down crown
Water resistance: 20 ATM/200M/660 FT
Reasons to buy
+Astonishingly robust+Unassuming looks 
Reasons to avoid
-No GPS here-Low tech only 

Sometimes you want simplicity, you crave form, function but no distractions, and this is when the Victorinox I.N.O.X makes complete sense. 

A simple exterior and basic quartz movement provide little bling or technical wizardry, but the case claims to be the only Swiss watch to withstand 130 extreme endurance homologation tests, which is no idle boast. 

The strap is woven from survival favourite paracord, high breaking strain cord that can be used to construct all manner of useful shelter-related items, and also included is a removable compass bumper for protection against scratches, and easier navigation. 

Survivalist simplicity doesn’t come looking better than this.

Ready to start your next adventure? Check out our pick of the best action cameras to document your travels. 

Best outdoor watches: Garmin Fenix 3

5. Garmin Fenix 3

A great affordable alternative to our number one pick

Build: Bezel: stainless steel & fiber-reinforced polymer
Weight: 86g
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Battery: up to 3 weeks in watch mode (with 24/7 HR monitoring); up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (with 24/7 HR monitoring)
Reasons to buy
+Powerful, smart technology+Good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly to get the best from it

The Garmin Fenix has evolved since its debut, and the result is a fearsome package of tech capabilities all wrapped up in a relatively compact smartwatch-style package. For starters there’s a full-fat GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation system here, backed up by 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer for high-quality tracking and triangulation. 

Then you’ve got the wrist heart rate monitoring, combined with strong fitness training features including running dynamics stride length, vertical ratio and VO2 max, and this is really an all-rounder for outdoors folk of all stripes. 

Sure, the colour screen and GPS tracking will burn a full charge in under 16 hours, but that’s a pretty decent mountain ultra-marathon, and you can tone the accuracy down to hit 40 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode, which is a pretty big day out.

Best outdoor watches: Nixon Mission SS

6. Nixon Mission SS

The ultimate wristwatch for surf dudes

Build: Bezel: stainless steel with fibre reinforced polycarbonate case
Water resistance: 10 ATM/ 100 metres
Reasons to buy
+Robust+Gives helpful, accurate information
Reasons to avoid
-Massive-Doesn't have many tracking options

If you’re worried about delicate outdoor watches falling apart on you, then the Nixon Mission SS is the beast for you. A stainless 48 mm bezel and 23mm solid stainless steel bracelet set the tone for a seriously chunky Google Wear smartwatch, fronted by Gorilla glass. 

The surfing expertise comes courtesy of a sync with Surfine, the world’s largest source for surf conditions reporting, and Snocountry, a mountain conditions alert system. 

Also packing in GPS, thermometer, altimeter, barometer, the Mission SS has plenty of onboard intelligence too, as well as Google Wear ingenuity when synced to your smartphone, such as remote camera operation, maps, etc. 

Best outdoor watches: Shearwater Teric

7. Shearwater Teric

The best looking dive watch on the market

Build: Stainless steel bezel with sapphire lens
Water resistance: 200m
Battery: 30hrs dive mode, 50 hrs watch mode
Reasons to buy
+Stunning design+Compact 
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Low, smartwatch-style battery life

The Shearwater Teric is a little bit special in the world of dive watches, and has already forced bigger brands to follow suit. Essentially it’s a diving smartwatch, which might sound obvious, but when you’re 50m deep on trimix a crash and reboot to factory settings could be somewhat harrowing. 

Above water you’ve got a sizeable AMOLED screen, chunky stainless bezel and sapphire lens, with a variety of different watch faces and strap colours to choose from. Underwater you have wireless tank pressure integration, configurable display, as well as full trimix, nitrox, air and gauge settings. 

In short, the Teric is a highly potent dive computer, as well as being an everyday watch. Unfortunately, the only question right now is whether you can find one to buy, as they’re in very short supply.

Best outdoor watches: Suunto 9 Baro

8. Suunto 9 Baro

Techno-packed mountain fitness performer

Build: Stainless steel bezel with glass fiber polyamide case and sapphire glass
Weight: 81g
Water resistance: 100m
Battery: 14 days, 25-120 hours GPS mode
Reasons to buy
+Endless features for every occasion+Training tools 
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly to get the best from-Short battery on GPS 

When you want fitness tracking whenever, wherever, then the Suunto 9 Baro has a lot to say for itself. The ‘baro’ in the name refers to an additional barometer sensor over the stock model, which not only provides weather information, but also makes that the GPS tracking much more accurate on long ascents. 

With 80 sports to choose from there’s no limit to the use you’ll get out of the Suunto, and the ability to sync and upload routes and PBs to your Movescount account is handy for comparisons and sharing with friends. 

Wrist heart rate monitoring is built in, as are a myriad of fitness stats, and there’s even sleep tracking too. This watch has all the bells and whistles you could want for, and even has a decent battery life with them all switched on.

Ready to start your next adventure? Check out our pick of the best action cameras to document your travels.