Best outdoor watches 2020: rugged timepieces for adventurers

We rank the best outdoor watches right now, whether you're surfing, hiking or diving

best outdoor watch
(Image credit: COROS)

Outdoor watches are potent packages of tech. The best outdoor watches can sport better sensors than a modern smartphone, in a tiny unit and with better battery life to boot. Other popular examples have evolved into near-indestructible time-telling tools that look as good as they wear. And there's a host of worthy variations in the middle. 

There might be a few compromises in using your watch as a GPS unit, but as screen tech (to say nothing of UI and UX) improve, and coaching tools become more powerful, there are fewer and fewer reasons not to give in and pick up a quality outdoor watch. 

Today, we think the best outdoor watch is the Suunto 7, linking Wear OS to a powerful set of sensors and potent mapping – but erstwhile crown-holder Garmin Fenix 6 also deserves a look if you're into serious outdoor tech. However, these are both all-rounders, so we've picked out a few specialist watches for different outdoor pursuits to balance the books. Read on for our ranking of the best outdoor watches right now – whatever you're into.

Not quite what you were looking for? We also have guides to the best running watch, the best golf GPS watch, and the best men's watches overall right now.

 How to buy the best best outdoor watch for you 

There’s a huge range of outdoor watches on the market, so before you dive in 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 – a few incredible all-rounders aside – the best outdoor watch for you will depend on what you want to be doing. Choose wisely, and get out there!

 The best outdoor watches right now 

Best outdoor watches: Garmin Fenix 6

(Image credit: Garmin)

1. Garmin Fenix 6

The best outdoor watch for pretty much everything

Specifications
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 has been at the outdoor smartwatch game for a while now, and its 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 (see out Fenix 6 Pro review for more on this).

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.

Best outdoor watches: Suunto 7

(Image credit: Suunto)

2. Suunto 7

A great everyday outdoors watch

Specifications
Build: Bezel: Stainless Steel
Weight: 70g
Water resistance: 50m
Battery: Up to 12 hours in GPS tracking mode or up to 48 hours in daily use
Reasons to buy
+Feature rich +Beautiful OLED screen +Everyday smartwatch
Reasons to avoid
-Hard on batteries

The Suunto 7 takes a bit of a new tack compared to previous outdoor watches, seeking to blend the everyday usability of a smartwatch with the powerful mapping and tracking of a 'real' outdoor watch (The Suunto 7 supports GPS, Glonass and Galileo). The tricky bit here is to keep a decent battery life, which the Suunto 7 does, at 12 hours in GPS mode and 48 hours in smartwatch mode. 

The benefits are pretty hefty: you get smartwatch apps aplenty, Google Fit, Google Assistant, and notifications as well as offline outdoor maps and more than 70 sports modes. The result is a watch that'll keep pace with your working week, track your daily training routine, and then be ready for big weekend expeditions – all while looking pretty stylish. A compelling mix. 

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BRITISH ARMY X G-SHOCK MUDMASTER

(Image credit: Casio)
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Best outdoor watches:

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3. Casio British Army X G-SHOCK Mudmaster

The best outdoor watch for the tacti-cool

Specifications
Build: Bezel: triple-layered carbon-insert bezel
Weight: 92g
Water resistance: 20 bars / 200M
Battery: Approx 2 years on CR2025
Reasons to buy
+MoD approved+Super rugged+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No GPS

The toughest watches just got tougher with this partnership between the Ministry of Defence and G-SHOCK, designed specifically for missions in the harshest land environments on the planet. Enormously robust and durable with a massive battery life, the Mudmaster also features a stealth-black dial for operational reasons. 

There's tech under the hood too, with Bluetooth Low Energy adding special app functions including a location indicator, mission log memory, location memory, sunrise and sunset data and calories burned. Onboard the watch you'll find sensors including compass, thermometer, altimeter/barometer, and step tracker. If it's good enough for the army...

Best outdoor watches: Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert

4. Tissot T-Touch Solar Expert

High-end, high altitude expedition wristwear

Specifications
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 watch: Coros Vertix

(Image credit: Coros)

5. Coros Vertix

Extremely capable adventure watch for mountaneers

Reasons to buy
+Excellent build quality+Good sensors+Advanced route and mapping features
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks casual features-No memory for music/apps etc.

The Coros Vertix feels solid, has great battery life, plenty of sport profiles, as well as good enough GPS and heart rate sensor. Yet, it feels like something is missing; or, more like, it always falls just a little short to deliver the top-tier experience it promises.

True, Garmin offers more options to get the watch you want – there are 18 different versions of the Fenix 6, after all – and also have more features for a slight premium. The non-sapphire glass version of the Fenix 6 Pro is £569.99, while the Coros Vertix retails for £519.99. For an extra £50, you get NFC, 32GB of music storage, Garmin Coach adaptive training, VO2 max, stress and respiration estimation, on top of everything the VERTIX has to offer.

Sure, the Coros Vertix has other admirable qualities too, namely the extra long battery life, the amazing water rating (15 ATM) and blood oxygen estimation, all in a lightweight yet rugged case. And, of course, the Sapphire glass, for which you will have to pay the premium with Garmin (Pro Sapphire costing £669.99).

Should you get the Coros Vertix? Absolutely. If you are after a no-frills, hardcore adventure smartwatch with excellent build quality, you'll find what you're looking for. The Coros Vertix offers plenty for the asking price, even though it misses out on a few easy features.

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

6. Victorinox I.N.O.X

Understated survival special

Specifications
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.

(Image credit: Casio)

7. Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30

The best outdoor watch for everyday wear

Specifications
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: Elliot Brown Mountain Rescue Canford

(Image credit: Elliot Brown)

8. Elliot Brown Canford: Mountain Rescue edition

The best outdoor watch for blending style with charity

Specifications
Build: Bezel: Steel
Water resistance: 20ATM/200M
Battery: 3 years, with EOL indication
Reasons to buy
+Donate to MRT+Very robust+Style for all occasions
Reasons to avoid
-No bells or whistles

Sometimes outdoor watches just need to tell the time and look good, and the Elliot Brown Canford: Mountain Rescue edition does exactly that. Buying one also donates £36 to Mountain Rescue England & Wales, and there's a very subtle ghosted matt on gloss MREW logo in the bottom half of the dial as a nod in that direction.

A ludicrously rugged case with triple sealed 6mm knurled crowns will laugh off anything short of a tank, and simple but clean green SuperLuminova coated indices and hands make this a pretty idiotproof time telling machine. There is a date marker, and two straps – a practical EPDM black rubber strap for weekdays in the office and a custom made black ballistic nylon webbing strap for hitting the hills at the weekend. Sometimes simplicity is bliss. 

Best outdoor watches: Garmin Fenix 3

9. Garmin Fenix 3

A great affordable alternative to our number one pick

Specifications
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: Shearwater Teric

10. Shearwater Teric

The best looking dive watch on the market

Specifications
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

11. Suunto 9 Baro

Techno-packed mountain fitness performer

Specifications
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.