Best Hiking Watch: “ABC” Watches Reviewed

One of the keys to finding your destination is first knowing where you currently are. While handheld GPS devices have made this a lot easier, if you’re a bit of a purist then you’ll appreciate that the best hiking watch is actually a Altimeter, Barometer, Compass (ABC) watch.

The compass and altimeter combined with a topographic map will allow you to navigate ​even if your GPS goes down.

While the barometer will give you a heads up when there’s bad weather on the way. The modern ABC watches have come a long way beyond just supplying elevation, direction and barometric pressure info.

The prices of some of these watches have also become pretty eye-watering. If you’re looking for the best ABC watch for hiking and climbing then check out our top 10 ABC watch reviews below. These watches go beyond novelty and are extremely useful pieces of outdoor gear.

Best Hiking Watch Reviews

Each of the devices listed below have altimeters, barometers and compasses as standard features while some also have built in GPS functionality.​


We’re not sure how Garmin managed it but inside this stylish compact watch you get all the features of a great ABC watch, GPS functionality, fitness tracking and a bunch of other features.

The display is fully customizable giving you both analog and digital options with plenty of designs downloadable from Garmin.

We’re wary of ABC’s that incorporate GPS because of battery life but this watch will keep going anywhere from 20 hours to 3 weeks depending on your use.

We really liked that you can pair it with your smartphone to get mail, texts and alerts displayed on the watch.

If you’re jumping out of planes, climbing mountains or heading into the unknown then the performance and durability of this watch easily justifies the high price tag.

What We Like

  • GPS and GLONASS built in makes this a true navigator watch
  • Beautiful styling
  • Good wireless connectivity to smartphone or for updating via wifi
  • Display is easy to read even in full sunlight
  • TracBack function makes it easy to retrace your steps
  • Decent battery life in spite of GPS

What We Don't Like

  • Really expensive

If you want a mid-priced ABC watch with GPS then this is a great option.

The sensors work really well (after some simple calibration) and the GPS is very accurate. It seems there’s no end to the level of customization and features available via the phone app and Movescount website.

It pairs with your phone to display mail, text and call alerts but you can’t reply or control the phone’s media player from it like a true smartwatch can.

There’s no subtlety about this watch. It’s really big, which is great if you like a large display, but means it doesn’t work as an everyday watch when you’re not out scaling peaks.

This is a great watch for trail running, hiking or even just for logging your workouts when you’re training.

What We Like

  • Built-in accurate GPS receiver
  • Impressive battery life - 30 to 200 hours depending on GPS use
  • Route navigation and track back for easy navigation
  • Connects to phone for semi-smartwatch capability
  • Customizable on the go via free app on phone
  • Good price for ABC with GPS
  • Ships with heart rate belt

What We Don't Like

  • Big and bulky
  • Heart rate chest strap it comes with could do with an ergonomic redesign

If you like having plenty of biometric data in addition to your usual ABC info then the Fenix will definitely impress.

The GPS/GLONASS receiver provides very accurate position info and the ABC sensors perform just as well.

The design is fairly sleek for all the features it has built in and there are plenty of watch faces that you can download for it.

We really liked the Elevate wrist-based heart rate monitor which means you can get rid of that uncomfortable chest strap.

It has good smartwatch features like phone alerts and will also give you basic control when playing music via your phone.

The battery life is good so you’ll probably only need to charge it about twice a month.

The price tag is pretty high but if you want detailed bio data at your fingertips combined with excellent navigation features then it doesn’t get much better than this.

What We Like

  • Built in GPS and GLONASS gives very accurate position
  • Plenty of free watchfaces downloadable from Garmin
  • Backlighting and bright colors make display easy to read in all conditions
  • Excellent biometric data reporting
  • Scratch resistant sapphire lense is very durable
  • WiFi enabled for easy connectivity
  • Monitors heart rate via wrist strap

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive

The PRW3000 is a slimmed down updated version of the popular PRW2500.

Being solar powered this watch has excellent battery life and will give you around 7 months operation on a single charge even if it doesn’t get any light on it.

The design is the standard Casio look which is more function over form but if you’re after a useful piece of equipment rather than a fashion statement then it definitely works.

The ABC sensors work well with the altimeter measuring 5’ (or 1m) increments, the compass displaying 1 degree 60 seconds continuous measurement and the barometer gives pressure change alerts.

If you know how to read a map and use accurate ABC data then this watch will give you that while saving you the cash that a GPS watch would cost you.

Casio removed the tide and moon phases though so if these are important for you then you may want to stick with the PRW2500.

What We Like

  • Backlight can be set to come on automatically when raising wrist
  • Solar powered with auto power saving mode gives excellent battery life
  • Multi-band atomic clock for extreme time accuracy
  • Very accurate ABC data

What We Don't Like

  • No GPS
  • Not a very attractive watch

If you like planning your trip before heading out then you’ll love the Suunto Traverse. You can use the great topographic maps on Suunto’s Movescount website and then upload your planned route to the watch.

This makes it so easy to head out on a new route with confidence.

The construction of this watch is rugged and tough but they’ve managed to still keep it very attractive. We really liked the sunrise / sunset time feature which helps you plan effective use of available daylight hours.

Another handy feature is that you can set the backlight to flashlight mode if you’re clutching around in the dark trying to find stuff or if you need to check your map at night.

The battery only lasts around 3 days when using the GPS which makes it only really suitable for shorter trips or in conjunction with a good battery charger.

What We Like

  • GPS and GLONASS enabled
  • Plan your trip by uploading routes before heading out
  • Breadcrumb feature makes it easy to find your way back
  • Some smartwatch features when paired with smartphone
  • Attractive design means this works as an everyday watch too

What We Don't Like

  • Battery life isn’t great

If you just want basic ABC data or if you’re on a budget then this is a good entry level ABC watch.

Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean you don’t get decent performance. The accuracy of the ABC data is pretty much spot on and the altimeter displays in increments of 1m which is better than a lot of the more expensive ABC watches.

The temperature sensor is a nice touch although it’s more accurate when the watch isn’t being worn.

This is not the most durable of watches though. It’s water resistant but we wouldn’t recommend testing that feature and the screen scratches easily so you’ve got to be a little careful with it.

This is a good budget option if you’re not planning on using it too often.

What We Like

  • Great price for an entry level ABC watch
  • Built in thermometer
  • Tracks accumulated ascent and descent
  • ABC data surprisingly accurate for this price

What We Don't Like

  • Acrylic glass face scratches easily
  • Why put a compass bezel on a watch that has a digital compass?

If you like your adventure to have a touch of style then you’ll enjoy seeing this watch on your wrist.

You get the accurate timekeeping you’d expect from a Swiss watch combined with accurate ABC data that is easily accessible.

We love the touch screen interface. Selecting one of the ABC modes is as simple as pressing one button and then touching the corresponding section of the watch face.

The digital and analog display work together beautifully to display data in an easy to read manner.

It’s especially cool to see how the watch hands change from telling time to becoming the compass arrows when selecting the compass mode.

It looks amazing and works beautifully but we wish it didn’t cost so much.

What We Like

  • Beautiful, stylish design
  • Accurate Swiss movement
  • Touch screen interface make selecting functions a breeze
  • Analog / Digital display does a great job of indicating time and ABC data

What We Don't Like

  • High price tag
  • You have to cut the wrist strap to size

ABC watches aren’t usually known for their good looks but the Suunto Core not only functions well, it looks good too.

The ability to change the battery easily is great because it saves you a trip to a jeweler. Just make sure you get that back on properly because if it doesn’t seal it won’t survive getting wet.

While this watch gives accurate info it does seem to have some quality issues. The buttons feel like they might end up getting stuck after a while.

If you’re looking for an ABC watch to use periodically then this is a good mid-range option. When it works, it works well.

The durability of the buttons and strap won’t hold up to daily use or regular outdoor activity.

What We Like

  • Good accuracy from ABC sensors
  • Large, easily readable display in daylight
  • Uses standard CR2032 batteries so they’re easy to replace
  • A lot of styling choices

What We Don't Like

  • It’s really big
  • Straps and buttons aren’t very good quality
  • Too dim for night-time use

This is one tough watch! From the non-reflective, scratch resistant mineral glass to the carbon fibre strap, everything about this watch is built to last. It is seriously big though.

The crown is massive which makes it easy to use but gets in the way a little when bending your wrist. It’s great to be able to use the crown to navigate the options and settings without having to press any other buttons.

The thermometer is a nice feature but it will only give you an accurate temperature reading when it’s off your wrist.

It’s got great ABC features which perform accurately even above 8000 feet but there’s a bit of a learning curve.

We liked the analog / digital look and how the hands automatically move out of the way of the digital display when changing settings.

What We Like

  • Solar powered so the battery last for ages
  • Atomic clock keeps time super accurately and you never have to set it
  • Waterproof and extremely rugged and tough
  • Built in thermometer
  • Strap is really good quality and built to last
  • Intuitive, easy to use interface

What We Don't Like

  • Big and bulky with a large crown
  • Watch hands aren’t luminescent enough to read in the dark
  • A bit expensive considering that there’s no GPS

If you’re a fan of Casio but want a watch with a little more elegance then you’ll love the PRG-510.

The functions are fairly easy to navigate but it you’re going to need to read the manual a few times.

While it looks really elegant it’s been designed to survive tough conditions. The strap is titanium and the tough glass is slightly recessed to give it extra protection from scratching. Even though it’s super tough it is extremely light and comfortable to wear.

As with other Casio ABC watches you get endless battery life because it’s solar powered and accurate data from the Triple Sensor.

Sadly, not only does this watch look expensive, it is expensive.

What We Like

  • Beautiful design makes this watch suitable for any occasion
  • Really light in spite of how much functionality they packed in
  • Titanium strap and tough glass make this watch almost indestructible
  • Accurate atomic-sync timekeeping

What We Don't Like

  • Seriously high price tag

ABC Watch Buying Guide

ABC watches vary in price and features from very expensive fully loaded devices to cheap watches with basic functionality. Understanding the different features will help you understand what features are important for the kinds of activities you’ll be engaging in.

​Altimeter

If you want to know your height above sea level then you’re going to need an altimeter.

Most ABC watches rely on the barometer to calculate your altitude. Altimeter watches with GPS will sometimes use GPS data to get a more accurate reading.

Check the period that your altimeter logs at. Some will only log the altitude every hour while others will give you a better resolution.

Also, if you’re planning on spending time on some serious peaks you need to make sure what the top end of your altimeter is.

There doesn’t seem to be a standard maximum height above sea level that they all aim for.

Barometer

The important info you want from your barometer isn’t the current pressure but rather what the trend in the pressure has been over a period of time.

Keeping an eye on changes in atmospheric pressure will give you a good idea of what the weather is going to do.

If your barometer indicates a rise in pressure then you should be in for some good weather. If the pressure drops then it means there’s some bad weather on its way.

If you’re wondering whether or not to take on that next peak or if it’s time to turn around and head back to camp then this is some good info to have.

Compass​

Most ABC watches will use a 3-axis digital compass that will work regardless of the orientation of the watch.

Check the resolution of the compass if you need very precise readings for your navigation. Also, remember that the compass will automatically align with magnetic north.

For accurate navigation you need to set the declination so that the compass shows you true north. The declination ​is the difference between true and magnetic north and it varies from place to place.

Some topographic maps will indicate the declination for that area or you will need to look it up online.

​Interface

It doesn’t help if your watch is capable of measuring all kinds of data if it’s difficult to access it. You want the interface to be intuitive and easy to use.

Make sure that the info you’re after is accessible with one or two button presses rather than having to dive in deep through menus.

Buttons

Make sure that the button layout works for you, especially if you’re a lefty.

Also, if you go out in the cold you’re going to want to be sure those buttons are glove friendly otherwise you’ll be pushing two at once.

Screen

The display needs to be clear enough even in sunlight so that you don’t have to stop and squint to read it.

A lot of ABC watches these days use negative displays (white on black) which looks really cool but some people find them harder to read than the conventional positive LCD displays.

Make sure the glass is tough enough so that it doesn’t scratch up. These kinds of displays cost more but a dim, scratched up display renders the watch useless so it’s worth spending more.

Accuracy

If you want bragging rights then by all means, go for the most accurate ABC watch.

You’re going to pay for it though.

Decide which measurement is most important for your specific needs. Some watches will have spot on compasses but their altimeter may be a little off or visa versa.

In this respect, perfect can be the enemy of good enough.

Most ABC watches these days are pretty accurate and it’s generally their other features that would be the differentiator.

GPS

Having a GPS built into the ABC watch can be a great help. It saves you trying to check your map every few minutes if it allows for route planning and the track back feature makes it easy to find your way back, even in the dark.

It does mean paying more, having a bulkier watch and shorter battery life. If you’re going to go for a GPS enabled watch then pay close attention to real battery life, not just what the manufacturer claims.

Our Favorite

The Suunto Ambit3 Peak is our top pick.

Not only does it look good but it delivers excellent ABC performance, GPS functionality, smartwatch features and fitness tracking while still delivering a decent battery life performance.

It’s not the cheapest, nor the most expensive ABC watch but then again, it has more features than you’d get from some of the more expensive options.

The ability to customize it, the accuracy of the ABC sensors and the great data displays make this our favorite.

Whilst we love the Tissot and the Garmins, we don't feel that the extra price tag is worth it.​

Best for Budget

If you want a cheap ABC watch that actually works then the Lad Weather Compass Altimeter Barometer Watch is a solid choice.

You get ascent and descent tracking and accurate ABC data in a watch that costs a fraction of some of the others we reviewed.

The resolution of some of the measurements like the altimeter are really impressive too.

It’s not as tough as the more expensive watches and you need to be careful not to scratch the screen but it’s a good option if you’re looking for an entry level ABC watch.

Conclusion

ABC watches are not designed to give you precise navigation information but they can give you very helpful data so that you can approximate your location and destination.

If you invest in the best altimeter, barometer, compass watch and use it in conjunction with a good relief map then it can save you having to carry a handheld GPS device.

How helpful that information will be really comes down to accuracy and ease of use. If you just like the idea of knowing where north is or having a fair idea of your height above sea level then get a cheap ABC watch.

If you want something reliable and accurate that you can use to make key hiking and climbing decisions then spend a few more dollars and get the best ABC watch that your budget allows for.​

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