Guide To Picking the Best Watch for Backpacking

Watches are one of the things that fewer people wear these days. It’s little wonder as, for most of us, the clock on our smartphone has replaced watches as our primary means of knowing the time. If you’re a backpacker, however, there is still a great reason why you shouldn’t be ditching your watch when going on an adventure. Watches today transcend the purpose of telling time as they are incorporated with a lot of features and functionalities that are all helpful in ensuring a safe, convenient, and successful backpacking trip.

The catch is that it can be an intimidating task to pick the most suitable watch, given today’s modern and myriad technology and advancements and the seemingly endless options in the market that may come your way. To help out, we’ve collated all information you need to know about these miniature wonders, making it a breeze to find the best watch for your backpacking pursuits.

Factors to Consider When Picking The Best Watch for Backpacking

Picking the best for backpacking entails exploring different factors and assessing each depending on your preference and needs. Be wary that all these are important and will help you make the correct choice of which watch to get.

1. Battery Life

One of the first things to look at is battery life. You’d want a watch that can follow through wherever you’re out and about. Some watches feature batteries that can last a year, while others may last only weeks or months. Certain models may even require to be charged every night, while others can be charged via solar power. Note that the more you use certain features like GPS, the sooner the battery will die on you.

With that, it’s best to choose a watch with ample battery life to last your entire trip. Be mindful that most manufacturers quoted hours account for the battery life while many of the features have been disabled. So, give some elbow room and lower your expectations as it isn’t the realistic battery life.

If you’re backpacking for several days and you need to use GPS, it’s also wise to carry along a small portable charger so your watch won’t die in the middle of your trip.

What’s great is that some watches offer power-saving options like reducing the accuracy of GPS to increase battery performance. Take advantage of them if you can to extend the battery life of your watch. Alternatively, you can opt for a watch with solar power-charging capability. While these solar watches don’t offer unlimited battery life, the technology vastly improves it.

2. Durability

Given all the rigors of backpacking, extreme weather conditions, and various outside elements, a backpacking watch must be sturdy and robust. Yet, the durability of the watch is actually a blend of different considerations, such as the material it’s made of, wristband, water resistance, and shock resistance. 


A primary factor that affects a watch’s durability is the material used on the display of the watch. You must look for a watch face that’s made of sapphire glass. It’s tough and can endure the austerity of the great outdoors as it’s highly scratch-resistant. A tradeoff is that sapphire glass can be quite expensive.

A great alternative is one that uses gorilla glass instead. Gorilla glass boasts the same durability as sapphire but they are relatively cheaper. You can also check watches that utilize chemically-strengthened class, which are even less costly. While they are not as sturdy as sapphire or gorilla glass, they boast better protection than plastic.


Wristbands get damaged over time. With that, you must select one that’s made of strong, flexible material like silicone. Silicone is also easier to maintain and often has vents to allow airflow, preventing sweat from building up between the strap and your wrist.

High-end backpacking watches feature replaceable bands, which is another feature you should look out for. Should the strap break or if you simply don’t like them, you can easily swap them out. That way, you can save yourself from having to spend on a new watch.

Steer away from watches with textile straps. They are meant when you’re venturing out too far, especially on off-the-beaten tracks, given that they are more difficult to maintain. You need to wash them regularly to prevent them from getting smelly.

Water Resistance

Most outdoor watches you can find nowadays are water-resistant. That means that you don’t need to fret about it getting damaged from a sudden rainshower during your backpacking trip.

However, if you plan to swim with your watch, you need to be a little cautious. Each watch has its designated level of water resistance. For example, some watches are only water resistant for up to 30 meters, while others can be under depths of 100 meters or more.

For paddle boarding, a watch that has a degree of water resistance of up to 30 meters is usually enough. For swimming, you need to get something that’s water-resistant to 100 meters or more. If you’re planning to go deep-sea diving, then you must look at dive-specific watch models so you can continue indulging in more serious swimming activities.

Shock Resistance

Shock resistance pertains to the capacity of the watch to hold against mechanical shock, which then refers to an impact such as a bump on a tough surface or any continuous movement or vibrations like running or jumping. Not all backpacking watches are created the same. If you’re a serious backpacker who engages in more thrilling pursuits, you may want to recheck if the watch you’re eyeing can resist shocks. Remember, always match your watch with your planned activities.

person checking their smart watch during a workout

3. Weight, Size, and Comfort

As a backpacker, you know how crucial weight is when packing a backpack. It’s best to go cut down on weight as much as possible, so your things won’t weigh and slow you down. That’s the same when picking a watch to put on your wrist. The heavier it is, the more you will feel the weight on your wrist. To avoid such, try to get a watch that weighs less than 60 grams (around 2 ounces). For anything heavier than that, you need to reassess if the watch has enough handy features that are worth the excess weight.

Apart from size, you also have to ensure that the watch perfectly fits. No matter how great your watch is, all will be for naught if the watch is too loose or too tight. Comfort also comes into the picture, as something that’s too large, heavy, and sets too firmly on your skin will surely be a pain to wear. Find something of the right weight, size, and fit, and you’ll instead have fun donning your watch on your backpacking adventure.

4. Features

Watches transcend merely telling time. They offer a lot of features that are designed to help you on your adventure. These include:

GPS (Navigation System)

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a U.S.-owned space-based satellite navigation system that provides positioning, timing, and navigation information. Having a GPS-equipped watch is vital in backpacking. If you’re doing it in the backcountry or off-the-grid when there are bigger chances of getting lost, GPS signals can save you from the challenging situation by telling you your real-time location and where you need to go.

Apart from that, GPS is also useful if you want to record the position data of your backpacking pursuit. Simply start recording at the beginning of your trip and save the information once done. It will provide you with helpful information, such as the total duration, distance, time, and any changes in elevation. You can analyze these data at home on your laptop and computer or keep them for future use.

Just be wary that GPS is not perfect. Being under a thick forest canopy or deep in the ravine can impact GPS signals. You must be out in the open to allow your watch to connect to as many satellites as possible and get a strong GPS signal. Another downside of GPS watches is their shorter life, which can be somewhat mitigated by rechargeable batteries and solar-power charging capability.


Watches with altimeters are also helpful for your backpacking trips. It measures and tracks the altitude as you climb. Knowing how high above sea level you are is helpful when you’re trying to pinpoint your location on the map. Watches that don’t have an altimeter estimate elevation using GPS data. As GPS accuracy depends on signal strength, data provided by the altimeter sensor is still more reliable than the one supplied by GPS coordinates.


Barometer on watches detects changes in air pressure. Thus, allowing you to predict the weather. Increasing atmospheric pressure means that the weather will improve, while rapidly decreasing atmospheric pressure means that the weather will worsen and you have to grab your rain gear and take cover from the storm.

Some watches have basic atmospheric readings, while others have more advanced data, such as displaying graphs of the fluctuations in the air pressure. Some models also have an alarm feature that will alert you should there be any significant, rapid shift. Such a  feature can save your life, especially if you’re backpacking on an exposed mountainside.


Nearly all backpacking watches today include a compass that you can utilize to get a general sense of direction. If you prefer using a compass, opt for a 2D or 3D compass. Just note that a 2D compass requires you to hold your watch horizontally, while a 3D compass functions in any orientation. With the compass feature on the watch and a proper map, you’ll find it easier to do triangulation to know your current location.

Heart Rate Monitor

Almost all watches for backpacking also come with a heart rate monitor functionality. It tracks your heart rate 24/7, which you can use to gauge your exertion level. If you’re a health-conscious backpacker, it can be incredibly handy as you can see how hard you’re working and control your heart rate at different segments of your backpacking trip. For instance, you can use the HR data to walk slower and longer rather than pushing yourself too much and exhausting yourself at the early points of your adventure. Remember that heart rate also provides valuable clues about your overall heart health. Any unexpected spike may imply that you’re starting to get sick.


Another feature that you need to look out for in a backpacking watch is a thermometer that measures outside temperature. It’s a super convenient feature, especially on multi-day backpacking trips and knowing how many layers of clothes to put on. Just be mindful that it can sometimes be inaccurate as the sensor can mistakenly take your body temperature into account instead of your surroundings. If you really need to measure the temperature outside, you can remove your watch for a while so your body heat won’t affect the measurements.

Man with backpack in nature checking parameters on smart watch

5. Ease of Use

Watches may use a touchscreen or button for their interface. Both have advantages and disadvantages. What’s important is that you’re comfortable using your watch.

Touch Screen: Watches with a touch-screen interface may appear more intuitive and easier to navigate, especially if you’re accustomed to using your phone or tablet. Yet, it can be otherwise when you’re on a backpacking trip. In rainy weather, the wetness of your fingers will make it difficult to select anything on the screen. Meanwhile, in cold weather, it will also be hard to use the touchscreen with your gloves on. On a hot day, your sweaty hands may also affect your usage.

Buttons: Buttons may look like they’re easier to operate. However, that’s not the case for some as you may often need to press the button in a specific order to use a certain feature. Their advantage is that watches with a button interface aren’t affected by wetness like it would in touch screen watches.

6. Style

While you should always aim for practicality, it doesn’t mean that you must totally take aesthetics for granted. Backpacking watches today come in a variety of designs. You can easily find one that suits your trip, whether it’s urban backpacking, a short hike, or visiting and dressing up for the top backpacking destinations in Southeast Asia. Again, opt for watches with replaceable straps as they can also help you change things up depending on the type of your adventure.

7. Price

Like with any purchase, the price will never be out of the picture. Watches can range from $20 to $600+. Expect that the higher the price, the better the models. Watches on the higher end of the spectrum are usually the ones made of lightweight, sturdy materials that won’t scratch or get damaged easily. Plus, they also have the best features. You can count on them to keep on ticking and be with you on many of your backpacking trips. If you’re a casual backpacker, don’t worry as you don’t have to break the bank to get a watch. You can find decent models in the middle price range that also boast enough features to help you with your outdoor pursuits.


A good backpacking watch is a crucial part of your gear. So, choose the features that are most important to you and decide whether you will use the other functionalities. Through that, you can get the best backpacking watch that will make your trips more enjoyable. Don’t be surprised if your watch becomes one of your new favorite pieces of backpacking gear.