Niche models of smartwatches have been developed with special features designed for various environments and uses. Among these are waterproof smartwatches, GPS smartwatches, extra-tough smartwatches, and those sporting more exotic features, such as tide monitors, depth gauges for diving or snorkeling – really, the sky’s the limit in terms of unique watch features.
When it comes to smartwatches, that is, watches primarily designed for use outdoors, while hiking, swimming, or another adventure, there are a number of unique considerations when selecting an appropriately tough smartwatch. This is largely due to the harsh and unforgiving conditions present in the great outdoors, especially when it concerns technology. As most of us know, technology doesn’t typically like water, high pressure, impacts, sweat, being covered in dirt, extreme temperatures, or any of the other myriad of environmental hazards that exist in the outdoors.
Therefore, rugged smartwatches are designed in such a way, to provide the features people need for sports and adventuring, along with extra durability. These may include waterproofing, extra-durable case or watch face and band materials, higher impact-resistance materials, and of course on-board GPS and good battery life for long trips away from civilization. With that said, we’ve compiled a list of the top outdoor smartwatches on the market today, their key outdoor features, pros, and cons. Some specialize in certain types of outdoor activities or sports, and others are all-purpose outdoor smartwatches.
It should be noted that these outdoor smartwatches are listed in ascending order of price only, no other ranking or subjective quality ratings are to be implied based on their order below.
Suunto Ambit3 Run
This outdoor smartwatch is designed primarily for running and basic exercise and fitness monitoring. It is one of the most affordable smartwatches we’ve reviewed, while still being packed with features.
Features for the Outdoors:
This outdoor smartwatch includes:
- Waterproof smart sensor to track heart rate from running, general exercise, even swimming.
- 15-hour battery life even with 5-second GPS accuracy turned on, or 100 hours with 1-minute accuracy (making it one of the best battery life smartwatches for outdoor/GPS use).
- GPS navigation, altitude, compass, and route planning features with the Movescount app.
- This is a waterproof smartwatch up to 50m depth.
- Full ability to set up your run routes, manage pace and cadence, track heart rate, distance, and time, and review all data back at home via sync to phone.
- Includes basic smartwatch functions like seeing calls and text messages when paired to a smartphone via Bluetooth (both Android and iOS), as well as transfer data via wireless or USB cable.
- Designed to work from -5° F to 140° F, with a stretchy and durable elastomer band and impact-resistant polyamide body.
This watch is an ideal GPS smartwatch for running and other outdoor training and exercise activities. While not the best-rugged smartwatch, it offers reasonable waterproofing, impact and temperature resistance for use in running, cycling, or swimming, with many great training and planning features via the included Movescount app. The battery life is impressive even with the GPS on, and it truly is one of the best battery life smartwatches in that regard. It is extremely affordable compared to other models in this review.
Some users have complained that the face is too dark and hard to see in low light conditions. Others have had some issues pairing with their phone or syncing their data afterward. No cellular connectivity, only GPS system, and Bluetooth/wireless mean you can receive notifications, alerts, text messages, and call notifications, but cannot carry on calls or similar on the watch.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Smartwatch
Samsung is a respected name in electronics, and their Gear line of products, from VR to smartwatches, have been well-reviewed by customers and third-party reviewers. The S3 Frontier Smartwatch is no exception, offering a wide range of features for a very affordable price, including many outdoor smartwatch features, without sacrificing the core tech appeal of these watches.
Features for the Outdoors:
Some of the key features of the S3 Frontier Smartwatch include:
- Speaker and microphone allow for Bluetooth-paired phone calls from the watch, along with the usual notifications, texts, etc. (Android and iOS compatible).
- Samsung Pay allows NFC payment (where accepted) like many modern smartphones.
- Resistant to dust, water (up to 5 feet deep/30 minutes), extreme temperatures, and drops, meeting military specifications (MIL-STD-810G), meaning this is one tough smartwatch.
- Battery life of 2 to 3 days is possible, depending on GPS mode and usage activity.
- Heart rate and fitness tracking.
- Durable steel bezel that doubles as an app selector dial.
- Durable silicone band that is waterproof, sweat proof, and able to stretch and bends without tearing.
The inclusion of a speaker and microphone make this a very well-rounded smartwatch in terms of features. Coupled with the NFC payment capabilities, the features exceed many comparably-priced general purposes smartwatches. Also, the durability (as proven by the military specification tests), quality steel bezel and silicone band mean this should hold up well through even the most strenuous outdoor activities. With included heart rate, fitness tracking, and GPS, this watch is a great all-around outdoor smartwatch from a quality, well-known manufacturer.
One of the biggest negatives about this outdoor smartwatch is that it is only water resistant, and not a waterproof smartwatch. That said, unless you intend to use it for swimming sports or something of that nature, it should be fine to use in rainy or intermittently wet conditions. Many customers have also mentioned that the included S Voice assistant (Samsung’s version of an Alexa, Siri, etc.) is rather limited and primitive compared to its contemporaries.
TomTom Adventurer GPS Hiking & Trail Running Watch + Heart Rate Monitor
TomTom has been at the forefront of GPS technology devices over the last two decades, so it’s no surprise that they’ve brought that expertise to the smartwatch market. While not as stylish as more traditional watchmaker’s smartwatches, it comes jam-packed with quality fitness features and rugged construction to make it a superb outdoor smartwatch.
Features for the Outdoors:
Some of the top features of the TomTom Adventurer include:
- True GPS smartwatch with integrated GPS and heart rate monitor, without a needed chest strap sensor.
- Free Bluetooth headphones included that are sweat and weatherproof, pair with the watch, and allow for music playback for up to 6 hours from the watch (3 GB storage).
- Multiple sports modes for many popular sports, as well as an altimeter, 3D distance visualization, total ascent and decent tracking, etc.
- Full activity tracking, including steps, distance, heart rate, calories burned, and more.
- TomTom Sports App has a number of tracking and metric features built-in, and the Trail Explorer provides planned (and unplanned) mapping of the traveled route.
- Waterproof smartwatch up to 40m depth.
- Battery life is ranging from 5 hours to 3 weeks depending on mode and features used.
As expected from TomTom, the GPS features are top-notch, and the planning and sports/fitness tracking features are also superb. This is an ideal outdoor smartwatch for many sports and training/fitness routines, including running, hiking, skiing/snowboarding, swimming, biking, working out the gym, and much more. It is a waterproof smartwatch and has some good durability to it.
Limited feature integration with smartphones in comparison to other smartwatches, such that some customers have argued it’s less of a smartwatch and more of a GPS/fitness tracker/navigation aid. There have also been some complaints about the watch band breaking or tearing too easily.
Nixon Mission Action Sports Smartwatch
Nixon has been making a name for themselves, especially in the youth and sports watches market among traditional watches. It is no surprise, then, that in the smartwatch space, they are also distinguishing themselves with the Nixon Mission Action Sports Smartwatch.
Features for the Outdoors:
The key features of this outdoor smartwatch include:
- Waterproof smartwatch capable of withstanding 10 atmospheres of pressure (approximately 100m).
- Stainless steel, raised bezel forms a “roll cage” for durability and protection of the watch body.
- Impact-resistant, shock-resistant polycarbonate watch case.
- Corning Gorilla glass ultra-tough and durable face, making this one of the best-rugged smartwatches on the market.
- Powered by Google’s WearOS, pairs with Android and iOS smartphones, as well as having integrated apps and features like Google Play, Google Fit, Google Maps, etc.
- Integrated GPS smartwatch also includes an altimeter, thermometer, gyros and accelerometers, barometers, and an e-compass.
- The onboard app can receive real-time surf and snow conditions from reliable providers.
This is a waterproof, GPS-enabled smartwatch designed for durability, fitness, and sports. Almost all of the features are built around durability and fitness, though there are plenty of quality-of-life features too like functioning as a remote control for compatible smartphone cameras, providing weather and flight information on the watch, and more.
Some consumers have had some issues with charging, software compatibility with iOS, and general watch function. As with many rugged Android watches, there can be an issue with iOS integration. There have also been complaints regarding condensation behind the screen, meaning some of the durability features and seals on the watch may not be 100% quality controlled, and for the price, that can be a real concern for some users.
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire
Garmin is another well-known GPS brand, which has been branching out into the smartwatch market for the last several years. One of their top-of-the-line offerings for the open-air smartwatch is the Fenix 5X Sapphire, the latest in their Fenix series.
Features for the Outdoors:
The Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire features include:
- Fully functional GPS smartwatch that also includes full-color topographic maps and navigation aids.
- On-board gyroscopes, accelerometers, barometer, and altimeter.
- Steel bezel, reinforced rugged buttons, and waterproof to 100m.
- Multiple included fitness and activity trackers that also sync to the company’s online fitness community where you can fully view and monitor your progress, compare with friends, etc.
- Scratch-resistant sapphire watch face.
- High visibility and readability in all lighting conditions, specifically designed and tested to work in extreme sunlight through the darkness.
- Wrist-based heart sensor means no chest strap is needed.
- Advanced running and health dynamics programs.
- Long battery life of up to 12 days depending on usage and GPS settings.
- Pairs with most Android and iOS smartphones.
A feature-packed outdoor smartwatch with GPS, durable construction, waterproof to 100m, and much more, with built-in fitness and activity trackers, topographic maps, and a heart sensor, all in one package. The battery life is good to excellent (depending on usage), and the watch face if very easy to read as compared to many other watches on the market. It was clearly designed for outdoor sports use, and the steel bezel, reinforced buttons, etc. all serve as a testament to that fact.
There have been some complaints about inaccurate GPS, though many have pointed out the default settings are designed to conserve battery life, and different qualities and resolutions are available. Also some comments about the altimeter and barometer and their accuracy, as well as the fact that the watch is lacking a touchscreen which can make use difficult and not very user-friendly in some cases. It is also on the expensive end of the rugged smartwatch spectrum.
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