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As far as hobbies go, there are not many more exciting ways of spending your time than going on a weekend hunting spree.
At the same time, it’s hardly a walk in the park compared to some other leisure time activities. Hence, it requires proper skill in shooting, understanding animal behavior, and being aware of your surroundings.
Especially the latter is extremely important – yet oftentimes overlooked by hunters a tad too confident in their own abilities. Trust me, having been on dozens of hunting trips myself, getting lost in the wilderness and losing the track of time is far from the most pleasant experiences you can imagine.
Luckily, we’ve come a long way as far as technology is concerned and the risks of encountering such a situation during your hunting session can be vastly reduced with the help of the right tools. And no, by saying that I don’t mean GPS devices of the size of a brick or an archaic compass.
In the last few years, there’s been an influx of wristwatches designed especially with hunters in mind. With the inclusion of an integrated GPS function and super durable body, this type of watch is built to serve you during the most demanding excursions.
To help you pick the best hunting watch for 2021, below we will have a look at three models constantly scoring great reviews from the hunting community worldwide.
Best Hunting Watch in 2021 (Top 3 Reviewed)
Suunto Traverse Alpha
At the time of writing, it’s really hard to come up with a hunting watch providing better value than one of the latest releases by Suunto – Traverse Alpha.
In fact, it’s one of only a few watches ever released that could be described as made exclusively for hunters. Okay, maybe exclusively is not the right choice of a word here – it’s also full of features for hiking and fishing enthusiasts. Some of these overlap one another, though.
Anyway, let’s dive into what exactly makes Suunto Traverse Alpha the best hunting watch to have in 2021.
No matter how feature-packed a wristwatch is, durability is the first quality that needs ticking off for those who love hunting. Luckily, Suunto has been active in the field of rugged – yet capable – watches for quite some time. Alpha Traverse isn’t the first release that could do the job in such a demanding environment – but it’s by far the most advanced one.
As far as the built of the watch is concerned, we can’t ask for more from a field watch. Traverse Alpha is one of Suunto’s most enduring releases to date and has been tested to military standards.
It boasts a really masculine, some might say soldierly design.
The oversized case, measuring 50mm in diameter, is made from stainless steel. The bezel is made from the same material and embedded a tad higher from the dial to maximize the protection against damage. And since we’ve touched on the subject of the dial, the fact that it’s made from the toughest material out there, sapphire crystal, definitely deserves a mention. The same glass is used in all models by the very top watchmakers such as Rolex or Omega.
The watch’s strap is made from a tough textile material. Although it can get a bit smelly during more demanding expeditions, the cleaning process is relatively smooth.
Encountering heavy rain or even storms shouldn’t be a worry, either. Traverse Alpa comes with a 100m water resistance that’s additionally aided by a screw-down caseback.
Suunto Traverse Alpha is jammed with useful features for hunting – but not only.
Let’s start with what makes this excellent Suunto model a standout amongst other watches for hunters. Traverse Alpha is the first-ever wristwatch to be equipped with a shot detection feature. It works perfectly with hunting rifles and shotguns although handguns and other firearms aren’t suitable.
The feature is activated by default once you switch to the hunting sport mode. The app’s algorithm uses a complex formula that takes into account movement patterns both from your wrist and gun recoil movement evaluated by the accelerometer in the watch. All in all, a truly amazing and unique tool.
Other apps that will definitely help you in the hunting environment include:
- Moon Phase calendar
- Sunrise & Sunset alert
- Moonrise & Moonset alert
- Moonrise & Moonset hour for selected dates
- Red backlight (compatible with night vision goggles)
As already mentioned, the watch is also an excellent choice for those with fishing and hiking hobbies. Other sports modes available with Traverse Alpha include cycling and running.
On top of sports-specific applications, Suunto Traverse Alpha comes with a myriad of other features that help you track your activity levels.
- A pedometer helps you track the number of steps you make
- A calorie counter gives you insights into how much energy you burn
- A 24/7 heart rate monitor measures your heart’s BPM patterns
Naturally, the watch has an integrated GPS. It uses the Global Positioning System and GLONASS satellites to provide the most precise data available. It comes with a TrackBack function that can be of great help when you get lost in the field, providing you with a safe way back to the starting point without draining the battery.
Suunto Traverse Alpha is also an ABC watch – meaning it’s supplied with an altimeter, barometer, and compass. Using the barometer data, the watch is really accurate in predicting the weather. The Storm Alarm feature goes a long way in helping you stay safe on your track.
If you’re in the field and relying on the GPS signal, the battery capabilities of your watch are of utmost importance. Traverse Alpha delivers in this aspect as well.
In the high exploitation mode – that is with the GPS mode enabled – it can last from 10h to 20h. The exact number of hours will depend on how many additional applications are running in the background. Even if we assume the lowest number of 10 hours, that should still be more than enough for a day out hunting.
In the standard time mode (during everyday use), the watch can easily reach 14 days on a single charge.
Garmin Fenix 6x Pro Solar
Next to Suunto, Garmin is considered another go-to brand when it comes to feature-packed field watches. If you don’t feel limited by your budget in any way, then considering the purchase of Garmin Fenix 6X Pro (Solar Edition) is far from the worst idea.
Akin to Suunto’s Traverse Alpha, the Fenix 6x Pro model is one the most advanced released by the American brand so far. The watch is available in a few variations and the one we will discuss below can be considered the most premium. That’s because it’s powered by the light. This fact means the chances of you running out of fuel during a hunting trip are significantly decreased.
Unlike Traverse Alpha, Garmin’s 6X Fenix Pro line is available in a few sizes – news most likely appreciated by folks with smaller wrists.
As good as Suunto’s model looks, the oversized case might seem a bit heavy on a slender hand. With Fenix 6X, you can pick from three case size options: 42mm (best option for women), 47mm (best option for men with small wrists), and 51mm (best bet for men with medium-to-large wrists).
What’s more, the solar version of the watch allows you to pick from different bezel materials: titanium or diamond-like carbon-coated (DLC) titanium. Both are definitely more fancy than standard stainless steel due to their smaller weight. However, bear in mind that titanium isn’t as scratch-resistant.
The version of the watch discussed here uses a titanium bracelet although there’s also a silicone option available. What’s more, the Fenix 6x bands are interchangeable – you can select from various color variations of silicone straps. They can be purchased at Garmin’s official site or Amazon.
Just like in the case of Traverse Alpha, Fenix 6X Pro’s bezel is slightly higher embedded than the screen to improve the impact resistance. Unsurprisingly, Fenix 6 matches the quality of the glass used in Traverse Alpha (sapphire crystal).
The water resistance is equally impressive, too. With the 10ATM/100m rating, you shouldn’t worry about hunting in rain.
In terms of the hunting-specific features, there’s no watch getting the better of Traverse Alpha. Hence it’s been picked as the best hunting watch available at this moment in time.
However, when it comes to the number of premium applications in general, Fenix 6X Pro is probably leading the chase. Let’s start with those who are also available in Traverse Alpha:
- heart rate monitor (measured every second)
- sunrise & sunset times
- altimeter, barometer & compass
- Moon information
- TrackBack (Garmin’s name of the app is TracBack but it works exactly the same)
Apart from the Hunt Calendar, there are no apps designed exclusively for hunters. The lack of a shot detector, in particular, is a let-down.
However, Fenix 6X Pro comes with activity-specific modes for swimming, cycling, hiking, indoor climbing, bouldering, climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, XC Skiing, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Kayaking, Surfing, Jumpmaster (read also: Best Watches for Mountain Biking & Best Watches for Surfing).
As far as health & wellness features go, Fenix 6X Pro clearly has an upper hand over Traverse Alpha and the majority of models on the market. On top of the apps mentioned above, it’s also equipped with:
- Pulse OX Blood Oxygen monitor – measures the level of oxygen in your blood
- Body Battery monitor – thanks to a combination of heart rate variability, stress, and activity trackers, the Body Battery app is able to estimate a user’s energy reserves throughout the day, on a scale of 1-100.
- Abnormal Heart Rate Alerts – once your heartbeat goes way too low or way too high, the app will let you know instantly
- All-Day Stress monitor – the app uses Heart Rate Variability data to determine the current level of stress in your body. The less variability between heartbeats means higher stress levels whilst the spike in variability is a sign of lower stress levels
- Relaxation Reminders – the feature is coordinated by the All-Day Stress monitor. Once the watch detects your stress levels are too high, it will suggest you do a short breathing activity to help you relax
- Relaxation Breathing Timer – the app can be used in tandem with All-Day Stress monitoring. It’s designed to reduce stress levels in your body with 1-5 minute breathing exercise
- Sleep Quality Tracker – helps you monitor the quality of your night’s rest, including insights into your deep sleep patterns
- Hydration Monitor – the app helps you log your daily water intake, as well as set reminders to make sure you get through the day properly hydrated
Garmin Fenix 6X holds an advantage over Traverse Alpha in terms of battery longevity.
On a single charge, in the normal smartwatch mode, the watch can run for up to 3 weeks.
In the GPS mode that you will definitely use during your hunting expedition, the battery should run for at least 15 hours. Since the battery is solar-powered, the number of hours is likely to be bigger as exposure to any form of light will continue to refuel the watch.
Finally, there’s the availability of a battery-saver mode. Using this mode, the watch can reach even 80 days without the need for a recharge.
If you feel priced out of the purchase of either Traverse Alpha or Garmin Fenix 6X Pro, it’s not the end of the world. The second wristwatch from the US-based company, Garmin Instinct, is an excellent alternative that will set you back considerably less than any of the two picks discussed above.
Although the Instinct has already been on the market for nearly 3 years, it’s still one of the most capable tactical watches released by Garmin. And it’s so much more budget-friendly!
In terms of durability, Garmin Instinct is in no way inferior to Traverse Alpha or Garmin’s Fenix 6X Pro.
In fact, as far as its thermal, shock, and water-resistance capabilities are concerned, the Instinct is built to the U.S. military standard 810. Hunting in difficult weather conditions shouldn’t cause any troubles, just like an accidental drop or hit to the screen.
Design-wise, the watch sends an equally strong masculine vibe. Its tough-to-beat body consists of a fiber-reinforced polymer case and bezel, and a silicone strap. Akin to the two hunting watch models discussed above, the bezel is set slightly higher than the surface of the dial to increase the protection against impact-related damage.
Garmin Instinct uses chemically strengthened glass as its lens material. For sure, it’s not as solid protection as the sapphire glass used in both Traverse Alpha and Fenix 6X Pro models. However, considering the significantly lower price of Instinct, the inclusion of a sapphire crystal would be a real surprise.
Garmin Instinct is available in unified case size, measuring 45mm in diameter. However, it’s available in as many as 18 color variations. You can check them all by clicking here.
Despite a considerably lower price, Garmin Instinct comes with a long list of useful features. Not only will they assist you in navigating through your hunting mission but also help you stay in good physical shape.
Despite offering a lot, Garmin Instinct doesn’t have any apps designed exclusively for those who hunt. If you’re after such, there’s no one getting the better of Traverse Alpha and its shot detection app anytime soon.
However, let’s now concentrate on what Garmin Instinct does provide – and there’s a lot of it. Starting with the wellness features available in previously discussed models, the Instinct is supplied with:
- Heart Rate monitor
- All-Day Stress monitor
- Relaxation Breathing Timer
- Sleep Quality Tracker
- Hydration Timer
- Body Battery energy monitor
When it comes to the apps that can be of great help during your hunting endeavors, Garmin Instinct offers:
- Barometric altimeter, compass, and thermometer
- Weather indicator
- Storm Alert
- Sun & Moon calendar
- Sunrise & Sunset Times
Naturally, the watch has an integrated GPS meaning you don’t have to rely on your phone to show you accurate location data. Akin to the Fenix 6X Pro model, Instinct works with data from three satellites: GPS, GLONASS, and Gallileo.
Possibly the most noticeable absence in terms of the watch features is the support for Garmin Pay that’s available with Fenix 6X Pro.
In spite of the lower cost, the battery performance of Garmin Instinct isn’t any less impressive.
In the regular smartwatch mode, you can expect the watch to run for up to 14 days. The GPS mode you will use while hunting can last for up to 16 hours. If you’d like to boost the battery capabilities of this model, you can buy the Solar version of Instinct that’s available at $50-100 more.
Best Hunting Watch: Buying Guide
I have high hopes that the three models discussed in the article have provided you with enough food for thought regarding what qualities the best hunting watch in 2021 should possess.
Summing up, it’s fair to say that all three products are more than capable companions for your hunting trips. Particularly impressive is Suunto’s Traverse Alpha which – at the time of writing – is the sole watch model designed specifically for those who love hunting.
However, we all know that there’s no accounting for taste. Just because I love all three products on the list doesn’t mean you will as well. Hence, it’s essential you know which watch qualities to look out for while hunting (pun intended) for the right timepiece on your own.
Below find a Buying Guide that will make sure you don’t get lost while looking for the product on your own.
There are many less demanding ways of spending your leisure time than going hunting. If you’d like your watch to be a once-in-a-few-year purchase instead of having to replace it after a few days in the wilderness, its durability standards need to be high.
Hence, make sure the watch you’re considering:
a) Comes with a durable screen
Watch dial is the most damage-prone part of any watch. In a demanding environment – whether we’re talking about going hunting or working as a firefighter or construction worker – the glass protecting the watch face needs to be made from rugged material.
The quality of glass will depend on your budget. However, no matter how constrained it is, make sure to avoid plastic/acrylic lenses at all costs. At the very least, look for watches with mineral crystal, Corning Gorilla Glass, or chemically strengthened lenses like the one used in Garmin Instinct. In terms of scratch resistance, your best bet will be sapphire crystal used in both Suunto Traverse Alpha and Garmin Fenix 6X Pro.
b) Doesn’t use a leather strap
Although looking extremely neat, leather straps are an absolute no-no for field activities. Not only are these more likely to tear or are more prone to damage resulting from water contact but can produce an unpleasant odor after a few demanding hunting missions. They’re also a nightmare to clean!
Instead, consider enduring materials such as rubber, silicone, stainless steel, or titanium.
c) Is Water-Resistant
While out hunting, you can’t always predict the weather with pinpoint accuracy. Depending on the region, the weather conditions can rapidly change and you might encounter a storm or heavy rain. In such a case, a watch without any or with a very modest water resistance can easily get damaged.
To avoid the risk, go for hunting watches that carry at least a 10ATM/100m WR rating.
If the durability is on point, look for features that will make your life as a hunter much, much easier.
a) Integrated GPS
Exploring unknown terrains without a reliable navigation system can end in tears.
Luckily, all modern hunting watches employ GPS technology. In the perfect world, you should go for a watch that uses an integrated GPS. In other words, the watch should be able to give you clues on your whereabouts without the need of being connected to your smartphone (read more: Standalone Smartwatches).
Additional perks for hunters that come with an integrated GPS are the possibility to mark down places of interest for shots and trails, as well as the shot detection technology available with the Traverse Alpha.
b) ABC (and T)
Hunting watches belong to the ABC family – timepieces equipped with an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass.
If your GPS breaks down in the middle of your hunting expedition, a compass can play an integral role in getting you back to your starting point. It’s also a good option to have if you’re running low on battery (GPS mode is the most battery-drainer out there).
If the watch you consider comes with a compass, it’s most likely supplied with an altimeter and barometer, too. The combo gives you a great insight into the heights you’re situated in and can be of great help in mountainous regions where the elevation can change quickly.
Finally, a watch containing all three tools mentioned above, usually also has a thermometer. This will help you determine the weather conditions on your track.
Every experienced hunter will agree that sometimes hunting trips can take way longer than initially expected. You might even find yourself in pitch-black conditions!
A capable LED light or strong luminosity can be an absolute life-saver in such situations – whether it’s about basic things such as checking the time or more complex information such as your surroundings and a safe way back home.