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The Best Garmin Watches for Hiking

If you’re shopping for a new GPS hiking watch, you will without a doubt come across some Garmins. While there are numerous other brands to consider, Garmin is perhaps the most prolific maker of GPS-enabled smartwatches.

The company has released multiple watch series consisting of nearly four dozen models and even more variants. And not only does Garmin produce a large quantity of smartwatches, their watches are also high quality as well.

Whether you’re hiking, running, swimming, or planning some other activity entirely, Garmin watches are built for the outdoors. They feature rugged construction and impressive battery life. Plus, the company was an early maker of GPS receivers, so you get accurate tracking in GPS mode as well.

For this article, we found Garmin’s best GPS watch for hiking by considering recommendations from the company itself.

We narrowed our scope by prioritizing certain qualities such as long battery life and watch features. Then, we watched and read countless product reviews to determine the overall performance, specifically looking at GPS mode battery life and accuracy.

As a result, we named the Garmin Enduro 2 as the best GPS hiking watch because it’s not just Garmin’s best hiking watch, but rather, it might be the best Garmin has to offer.

However, we also listed an assortment of other outdoor watches, ranging from the best budget watch to the best watches for running, swimming, and more. And for a full list of the best GPS watches, check out our article here.

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The Best Garmin Watch for Hiking

Best Overall: Garmin Enduro 2

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Image by Garmin

For the best hiking and backpacking watch overall, we picked the Garmin Enduro 2. It’s essentially a beefed-up version of the Garmin Fenix 7, which we named as the best multi-sport watch.

What makes it a better watch, though, is that it’s made from more durable construction materials and has the longest battery life of the two. When comparing the two, the biggest thing that stands out on paper is that the Enduro 2 has about 50% more battery life than the Fenix 7.

On paper, that’s 34 days instead of 18 days in smartwatch mode and 110 hours instead of 57 hours in GPS mode. When tested, some reviewers found that the battery life lasted approximately five days in full GPS tracking mode and the maps functionality engaged.

Additionally, reviewers say the Garmin Enduro 2 is an extremely reliable GPS watch without sacrificing battery life. The watch is programmed to switch the GPS setting depending on the signal.

In harder-to-reach areas, it’ll function in dual-band GPS mode and single-band when the signal is strong. Plus, it has a built-in flashlight.

Features & Specs:

  • Material: Titanium | Power Sapphire
  • Battery Life: 34 days
  • GPS Battery: 110 hours
  • Solar Charging: Yes
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Weight: 70 grams

Best Budget: Garmin Forerunner 165

best-garmin-watches
Image by Garmin

We picked the Garmin Forerunner 165 as the best budget watch because it’s the latest and greatest budget-friendly option Garmin has to offer.

Being the newest means it comes with most of the programmed features that are considered standard for higher-end models — like Garmin Pay — but it doesn’t have as good construction and it has a shorter battery life.

In addition to the aforementioned, the biggest selling point of the new Forerunner GPS watch is the AMOLED display type, which means Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode, because it delivers greater image quality than older models.

Plus, for about $50 more, it comes with 4 gigs of storage for music. But, sorry, no maps.

Features & Specs:

  • Material: Chemically strengthened glass | Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Battery Life: 11 days
  • GPS Battery: 19 hours
  • Solar Charging: No
  • Storage: 4GB (optional)
  • Weight: 30 grams

Best Value: Garmin Instinct 2 Solar

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Image by Garmin

For the best value, we picked the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar. Compared to the Garmin Enduro 2, it shares a lot of the same features for about half the price. When people talk about the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar, they say it has everything you need and nothing you don’t. Plus, it has a built-in flashlight.

Since you already know the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar is a good watch, it’s easier to say what it doesn’t have compared to the Garmin Enduro 2. The most noticeable difference is the monochrome screen and the slightly lesser-grade construction.

The Instinct 2 Solar is equipped with power glass and polymer housing rather than a sapphire crystal and titanium.

Features & Specs:

  • Material: Power Glass | Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Battery Life: 40 days
  • GPS Battery: 60 hours
  • Solar Charging: Yes
  • Storage: 64MB
  • Weight: 67 grams

Best For Running: Garmin Forerunner 265

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Image by Garmin

For the best running watch, we picked the Garmin Forerunner 265. The Garmin Forerunner has always been Garmin’s best running watch and in some ways, it continues to be.

Compared to the Garmin Forerunner 165 (our best budget), the Forerunner 265 has a longer battery life, twice as much storage, and can connect to WiFi.

What people love about the Garmin Forerunner 265 is the brightness of the AMOLED screen and the various tracking features. You can track not only your performance on runs, but it is programmed to prompt you with workouts, training readiness, and adaptive training plans as well as giving you morning reports and recovery status.

Features & Specs:

  • Material: Corning Gorilla Glass | Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Battery Life: 13 days
  • GPS Battery: 20 hours
  • Solar Charging: No
  • Storage: 8GB
  • Weight: 47 grams

Best For Swimming: Garmin Swim 2

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Image by Garmin

When it comes to dedicated swimming watches, Garmin only has a couple. There’s the Descent series, but it’s a dive watch, which is overkill if all you need the watch for is lap swimming.

Then, there are the multi-sport watches, but those are designed for a variety of activities, which increases the price. Therefore, the Garmin Swim 2 is our pick for Garmin’s best swim watch.

For the Swim 2, Garmin basically waterproofed a Garmin Forerunner and programmed it with swimming functionality. Compared to a multi-sport watch, you get a smaller and more lightweight watch at a lower price point. While you can still use it to track your running and biking, the Swim 2 prioritizes swimming.

Although it doesn’t track swim strokes, you can enter what size pool you’re swimming in and it will track your laps. Then, it will also track your distance via GPS mode during outdoor swims.

Some reviewers found the built-in heart rate monitor to be pretty good, you can also pair it with a Garmin heart-rate monitor for more accurate tracking.

Features & Specs

  • Material: Chemically strengthened glass | Silicone
  • Battery Life: 7 days
  • GPS Battery: 13 hours
  • Solar Charging: No
  • Weight: 36 grams

Best Multi-Sport: Garmin Fenix 7 Solar

best-garmin-watches
Image by Garmin

For the best multi-sport watch and runner-up to the best overall, we picked the Garmin Fenix 7. Like the Garmin Enduro 2, the Fenix 7 is the latest and greatest multi-sport watch Garmin has to offer.

Although some describe it as an incremental upgrade to the Fenix series, those changes do make a difference. It’s the accumulation of the things that Garmin fans love about Garmin multi-sport watches — navigation, health tracking, training tools, storage, etc.

While you can program the Fenix 7 to automatically adjust activities and get metrics on your performance, the most noticeable new feature is the flashlight, which you can use as a flashlight or a safety tool.

What makes the Garmin Fenix 7 better than older models are upgraded sensors, specifically a new and improved heart rate sensor.

The upgrade improves monitoring during activities that require more wrist movement, which may allow outside light to reach the optical sensor. The result is more accurate measurements. 

Features & Specs:

  • Material: Power glass | Stainless steel | Fiber-reinforced polymer
  • Battery Life: 11 days
  • GPS Battery: 37 hours
  • Solar Charging: Yes
  • Storage: 32 GB
  • Weight: 63 grams

Things to Know Before Buying a Garmin Watch

At the end of the day, a Garmin GPS watch is a smartwatch and all smartwatch brands offer a lot of the same features, including GPS tracking, smartphone capability, health and fitness tracking, a heart-rate monitor, and others.

Yet Garmin is a standalone brand, so when you buy a Garmin watch, you’re buying Garmin technology and applications. So what do you actually get when you buy a Garmin watch? To answer that, we need to take a step back to look at the brand and GPS technology.

GPS Technology

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, was originally a military navigational system. The way it works is satellites float above the earth and they bounce signals back to a receiver — a GPS watch, for example — on the ground to identify location.

As you probably know, you can overlay that information onto a map so you can see where you’re going. About a decade after GPS launched in the late 1970s, the Kansas-based Garmin became a military contractor and developed GPS receivers.

Then, as soon as GPS technology was made a public utility, Garmin products were made available to civilian buyers. While that’s an oversimplified history, the point is to say that Garmin was an early developer of GPS technology.

In those early days, Garmin became synonymous with satellite navigation as they made portable electronic maps you could use in your car or on the water.

While Garmin still makes those devices, today, the company is one of the most prolific makers of GPS watches. So what’s in a Garmin GPS watch?

Activity-Specific Designs

While there are several smartwatch brands, none of them offer as many options, variants, or price points as Garmin.

Most Garmin GPS watches have activity-specific designs, such as running, cycling, swimming, golfing, and/or multi-sports like triathlons. Some of these designs include features that make for a pretty good hiking and backpacking watch.

An example of an activity-specific feature would be multi-band GPS, which means the watch picks up on multiple GPS signals for more precise tracking.

They’re also equipped with the Garmin Connect app, which is accessible on a smartphone or computer. You use Garmin Connect to log all of your activity, create routes, load maps, plan workouts, set goals, connect with other Garmin watch owners, and other things.

Features of a Hiking and Backpacking Watch

Battery Life

For a GPS watch, battery life is measured in two ways: smartwatch mode and GPS track mode. The reason is the watch uses a lot of power to locate and hold a GPS signal.

With that said most GPS watches have exceptional battery life. Most brands measure battery life for smartwatch mode in weeks and GPS mode in hours or days.

Solar Charging

If you’re planning to use GPS mode during endurance activities or backpacking, you’ll want solar charging capabilities. The reason is you won’t always be able to stop and charge your watch.

Although solar charging doesn’t guarantee unlimited battery life, it is extremely helpful as some solar charging watches can fully recharge in as little as three hours.

GPS Accuracy

There are a couple of ways to think about GPS accuracy. First, it refers to how accurate the watch is at tracking your distance and second, it refers to the precision in which it grabs your location. This is where something like multi-band GPS comes into play.

In remote or extremely busy areas, a watch that can pick up multiple GPS signals (and/or international signals) will deliver the most accurate tracking.

Navigation

In GPS mode, a hiking watch will track your location, but that doesn’t always mean you’ll have an easy time navigating the area. That’s why when we say “navigation,” we are specifically referring to maps.

Map and navigation functionality are considered more advanced features, but they’re extremely helpful if you’re hiking, biking, or running on unfamiliar trails and terrain.

Construction

The best hiking watches or backpacking watches have a solid construction, meaning they’ll use durable materials like a titanium build and a sapphire crystal watch face rather than plastic. The reason is you’ll want them heat and scratch-resistant as well as dustproof and waterproof.

Tracking Features

While you’ll a watch with full GPS tracking, other tracking features can be helpful if you’re an active person. When they’re training, endurance athletes will use the watch’s wrist heart rate monitor to maintain certain levels of effort, and sleep tracking and other health tracking features for recovery.

Other Watch Features

When it comes to a hiking watch, the GPS feature and excellent battery life are all the features you really need. Other watch features like music storage and touch screen functionality are nice to have.

FAQs about Garmin GPS watches

How do you extend battery life in a Garmin watch?

Most hiking watches like the ones made by Garmin contain tons of features, ranging from programmed sports profiles to a wrist heart rate monitor, but those features use a lot of power. Therefore, one of the most common questions asked is how to extend battery life in a Garmin watch.

According to Garmin’s website, there are two ways to achieve the best battery life. The first suggestion is to disable features you don’t plan on using, such as alerts, WiFi connections, GLONASS or Galileo settings as well as turn down the brightness and turn off the always on display.

The second is to enable battery saver mode – or low power mode – but that is only offered in select models. Doing these things will ensure a long battery life.

How does Garmin compare to the Apple Watch Ultra?

When it comes to outdoor smartwatches, everybody is curious about the Apple Watch Ultra. With that said, Apple’s newest wearable, the Apple Watch Ultra 2, is a pretty darn good watch as it was specifically upgraded with the outdoor enthusiast in mind.

If you love Apple products then you’ll probably love the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Compared to a standard Apple Watch, the Ultra 2 has a variety of hardware and software upgrades, which expands controls and applications. With cell service, it’s essentially an iPhone that you wear on your wrist.

When people compare a Garmin to the feature-rich Apple Watch Ultra 2, they typically pick the Garmin Fenix 7. However, they’re very different products.

While the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is intuitive and durable, it just doesn’t compare when it comes to battery life. On a full charge, it’ll last as long as the Garmin Fenix 7 – and most other GPS watches – in GPS mode.

How does Garmin compare to the Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar?

When it comes to GPS watches, the Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar is considered an incredibly reliable GPS watch. While it’s equipped with stellar GPS accuracy and maps, where it shines is battery life. With 90 hours of GPS tracking or more with solar charging, nothing really offers the same battery life.

The closest is the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar with unlimited battery life in smartwatch mode and up to 65 hours in GPS mode.

What watch compares to a Coros Apex?

When it comes to fitness tracking, Coros watches give Garmin a run for its money. With that said, one of the best Coros watches is the Coros Apex 2.

Some reviewers have described it as not just a great GPS watch but rather, as one of the best running watches for elite and outdoor athletes, especially those who run ultramarathons, which is more than a marathon distance.

On paper, the Coros Apex 2 will run up to 40 hours in GPS mode (and the Coros Apex 2 Pro will last for up to 66 hours). Unlike Garmins, Coros builds watches specifically for endurance athletes, so the features are tailored for long-distance and trail running.

With such specific fine-tuning, the most comparable Garmin offering is the Garmin Forerunner.

The Best Garmin Hiking and Backpacking Watch

If you’re in the market for a new GPS watch, you can’t go wrong with a Garmin. As far as Garmin hiking watches or backpacking watches go, we say the best available is the Garmin Enduro 2 and the Garmin Fenix 7 as a close second.

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