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2020 has been a nightmare of a year. It’s made a complete mess of most people’s plans and dreams, especially those who love to travel. But like all bad things, it will eventually come to an end and there’s nothing wrong with planning in advance!
If you’re a travel geek like me and the prospect of spending more than a few months in one place sends shivers down your spine, you know how important a proper backpacker’s gear is.
A solid backpack is of course the bread and butter of any trip. Clothes suitable for the climate you’re heading to are equally important. But if you want to make sure that you’re tooled up to the maximum, you shouldn’t play down the importance of a proper timepiece which can be a life-saver in certain situations on the road.
Finding the best watch for backpackers can be a time-consuming process, especially if you’re not familiar with the essential features it should come with. To save up some time, below I have prepared a list of the 6 best models that won’t break the bank.
The list is divided into two sections. First, you will find my top 3 picks. If none of these caters to your taste, there are 3 alternative models further down the article. And finally, should the unthinkable happen and none of the 7 watches grabs your attention, at the very bottom of the page you will find a Buying Guide so you can find your perfect backpacking watch on your own.
Best Watches for Backpacking (Top 3 Reviewed)
As far as top watches for backpackers go, nothing beats Suunto when it comes to quality-price ratio. With the Suunto Core model, you get everything you could possibly ask from an adventure watch – and more.
The Finnish company has been on the market since 1936 but it wasn’t until the 21st century that it started dominating the outdoor watches market. Nowadays, Suunto timepieces are known for being rugged, feature-packed, and most importantly, affordable.
Suunto Core is the perfect companion for a backpacking trip for a variety of reasons. Let’s start with the basics, so the durability.
The watch comes with a tough, composite case measuring 49mm in diameter, with an aluminum bezel that can function as a compass. The band is made from elastomer, an equally-durable material that can take a lot of abuse. Protecting the watch face is a scratch-resistant mineral crystal glass. And finally, the water-resistance of this model is rated at 30m which makes the occasional splashes safe.
Moving on to the functions, Suunto Coore comes with aplenty. Apart from the afore-mentioned compass, altimeter and barometer are also included. Those are especially useful if your backpacking trips often include hiking and mountaineering. The watch also has a fairly effective weather indicator. Topping it all off is the Storm Alarm feature which senses sudden drops in air pressure and notifies you of approaching storms.
From the basic functions you might want to know about, the timepiece comes with different alarm settings, a calendar and a backlight.
Suunto Core won’t break the bank and in my eyes provides the best value from all watches listed here. Nevertheless, if you want to shop at truly bargain-basement prices, it’s not all lost!
This Casio model here gives you some essentials features for a backpacking watch and comes at fraction of the cost.
Durability-wise, it’s just as tough as the Suunto model. The watch comes with an oversized 50,6mm resin case and band, as well as an aluminum bezel. Because of the case size, it’s probably better suited for people with larger wrists. Akin to the top pick, the dial window is made from mineral crystal glass. The watch holds an advantage in terms of water-resistance with a rating of 10BAR/100m – making it suitable even for snorkeling.
The watch is run on a Japanese quartz movement, providing excellent accuracy typical for most Casio timepieces. It has the World Time function that features 31 time zones (48 cities + coordinate universal time).
One of the main features that any backpacker will surely appreciate is the digital compass with a graphic direction pointer. The model also comes with a thermometer.
From basic features that need pointing out, Casio SGW600H comes with an electro-luminescent backlight, daily alarms, and a calendar.
Garmin Fenix 6s
If stretching your dollar is not an issue and you are after a top-end model, full stop, make way for Garmin Fenix 6s. The watch is currently one of Garmin’s all-time best-sellers and it’s that for a reason.
The model is a smaller version of Garmin Fenix 6 and Garmin Fenix 6x and has been designed with slender wrist folk in mind. With a 42mm case diameter, it can surely look great on any wrist indeed.
The afore-mentioned case is made from highly durable polymer, whereas the bezel is stainless steel and the band material is silicone. When it comes to the dial window, Fenix 6s uses the so-called Power Glass, patented by Garmin itself. We can say that the scratch-resistance of this material is somewhere between a mineral and sapphire crystal glass – which is impressive. Add to that a 100m WR rating and we have a properly durable piece.
Like Suunto Core, Fenix 6s is a smartwatch. And by far, it’s the most feature-packed product on the list.
Being solar-powered, it’s also the most economical choice. On a single charge, it can remain performance-ready for weeks. To maximally speed up the process of solar charging, it’s best to avoid covering the watch face with your sleeve when outdoors. The brighter the sunlight, the faster the charge.
Not only is Garmin Fenix 6s the only solar product on the list, but it’s also the sole model that comes with a GPS feature. The model uses navigation data from three different satellites in form of GPS, GLONASS and Galileo, providing precise details of your whereabouts whatever the coordinates. The list of pre-loaded topographic maps is endless and even includes ski maps for over 2,000 ski resorts worldwide.
If you plan to stay in shape during your travels, the watch has a plethora of fitness apps that can help you do so. Those include trail running, swimming, running, hiking and more. There’s also an app exclusively dedicated to backpackers who love to surf which lets you record every wave you ride for later viewing.
To help you keep track of your everyday wellbeing, Garmin Fenix 6s includes the heartbeat tracking feature. Another one that will help you stay in good shape on your voyage is the Hydration Reminder.
As far as premium features are concerned, it’s impossible not to mention the support for Garmin Pay. Fenix 6s allows for contactless payments on your travels as long as you set up the app on your smartphone (either Android or iOS).
Last but not least, the watch naturally comes with all the basic functions such as alarms, stopwatches, calendars, etc.
A true powerhouse when it comes to watches suitable for backpacking trips – but it’s far from cheap.
Still Looking? 3 Alternative Picks Below
The first on the list of the alternative choices is this comment-worthy Timex model. The watch belongs to the Expedition collection, designed particularly with adventure seekers in mind.
Timex T2N720 is the first analog watch on the list and it’s run on a precise quartz movement. It comes with a 45mm case and bidirectional bezel functioning as a compass – both made from stainless steel. Its durability is further boosted with the presence of a mineral crystal dial and a 100m water-resistance rating.
Apart from the already-mentioned analog compass, this Expedition model also includes a tide tracker. The feature counts down to high or low tide and will be in particular appealing to backpackers who love to surf. A thermometer measuring air and water temperature is a welcome addition as well.
Like any other Timex timepiece, the watch uses Indiglo Light-Up luminescence technology, allowing for comfortable use in the dark.
We’ve had our analog timepiece and it’s the time for the first and only automatic watch on the list. Although when it comes to going on an adventure I prefer models with quartz movements due to their unbeatable accuracy, I couldn’t help but include this elegant timepiece from Japanese brand Seiko.
Seiko SKZ211K1 belongs to one of the more affordable collections, Seiko 5. The whole line has been designed with sports enthusiasts and adventure-seekers in mind.
The watch uses a 23-jewel Japanese automatic movement. It isn’t battery-powered and is self-wound as long as you keep wearing it. To learn more about types of watch movements, click here.
On top of the movement type, what distinguishes this model from other products on the list is the fact that it’s all stainless steel. The case measures 42mm in diameter and includes a rotating bezel that functions as a compass. The watch face is protected by a Hardlex mineral crystal. The water-resistance is rated at an impressive 200m, making the watch safe to wear even during scuba diving.
Additionally, at 3 o’clock there’s a day and date calendar. Comfortable time-reading after dusk is ensured by 3 luminous hands and hour markers.
All in all, it’s probably the most stylish piece on the list and if you don’t mind missing out on a few seconds a day, it definitely gives further food for thought.
If you value durability above everything else, then there are not many, if any, more rugged watches than Casio G-Shocks. The model here is an absolute beast when it comes to the amount of abuse it can take during travels.
Like the majority of Casio timepieces, it’s run on a Japanese quartz movement, ensuring best-in-the-business precision and longevity. Unlike the previous all-digital Casio pick, this one has both analog and digital elements.
Characteristically for most G-Shocks models, the watch comes with an oversized case. Because of the 56,2mm diameter, it will probably look better on larger wrists. The case is made from resin whereas the band is silicone. Protecting the watch face is a mineral crystal window. Apart from an impressive 200m water-resistance, the watch is also mud-resistant and shockproof.
Similar to the previous Casio pick, the watch uses a digital compass. It’s also a Twin Sensor model, meaning it can serve as a thermometer and barometer. Other features you might find useful for your tips include daily alarms, auto-calendar and a backlight.
Picking the Best Watch for Backpacking: Buying Guide
I truly hope that the list provided you with at least one model worthy of your attention. At the same time, I’m aware that one man’s meat can be another man’s poison and just because I loved all products on the list, doesn’t mean you share the enthusiasm.
That’s why I have prepared a short and easy-to-grasp Buying Guide that will help you find the best watch for backpackers on your own. Below you will find all the essential features you should look out for in such a watch, as well as some bonus perks that might make your voyage even more enjoyable.
A typical backpacking trip is rarely a walk in the park. When trying to pick a proper backpacker’s watch, we should prioritize durability above anything else. And that’s what I did when creating the list above.
Depending on your path and final destination, you might encounter different climate and weather conditions that might be borderline extreme at times. That’s why the watch should be able to withstand a lot and help you stay safe at the same time. When browsing for the right product on your own, make sure the following conditions are met:
- Mineral or sapphire glass – whether it’s rock climbing on the Appalachian Trail or surfing on the coastline of Australia, you need to protect the watch dial at all costs. It’s the most damage-prone part of any watch and one that is usually expensive to replace. Try to avoid plastic dials when possible, and aim for either a mineral or sapphire glass. The latter is oftentimes found in higher-priced models and is the most scratch-resistant option out there. In most cases, a mineral glass will be sufficient, though.
- Stainless steel, rubber or silicone band – another part of the watch that needs to be sturdy is the band. Pick either of the mentioned materials and you will be fine. Watches with leather straps might be appealing looks-wise but they are so much more prone to defects than the rugged bands listed here. Especially when in frequent contact with water or other fluids, the leather band is likely to develop an unpleasant odor in a relatively short space of time. It is also likely to wear off quicker.
- Water-resistance – an absolute must as well. Make sure the watch comes with a WR rating of at least 3BAR/30m. Anything below that makes the watch susceptible to damage. If you’re a backpacker with a love for water sports as well, aim for WR of 10BAR/100m or higher. In such a case you might even want to consider getting a certified diver’s watch or a watch for surfing.
If all of the essential durability conditions are met, you can look for some bonus features that could also go a long way in certain situations.
- Shock-resistance – massive shocks to the watch (ie. when you drop it on a hard surface), on top of being likely to cause exterior defects, can also lead to movement damage. The watch being shock-resistant definitely adds more protection and oftentimes increases the lifespan.
- Low-temperature resistance – If you’re often backpacking in winter, the watch being able to handle low temperature (well beyond the 0°C or 32°F mark) is really important. Watches that don’t, and that are often exposed to extreme conditions, can drop dead much quicker due to movement oils that can basically freeze.
The ruggedness of a backpacking watch is so important. But so are some functions. Ensure that the below are included in the product you want to purchase:
- Luminescence – backpacking after dark is inevitable and will happen sooner or later. The watch having a backlight or at the very least luminous hands and markers goes a long way.
- Compass or GPS – getting lost on your track in an unknown environment is never a pleasant experience. Having a fully-functioning compass (either digital or manual) can truly be a life-saver at times. If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a watch for backpacking, you can aim for models with GPS. They are definitely more precise and easier to navigate but oftentimes need data or Bluetooth connection with the phone.
- Accuracy – automatic watches are often a bit easier on the eye and might require a higher level of craftsmanship but they are nowhere near as accurate as quartz timepieces. The watch showing as precise time as possible should be high on the priority list during travel. Go after watches with quartz movement – preferably Japanese or Swiss. Smartwatches are also absolutely fine.
- Alarm – if your phone battery drops dead on the road, it would be good to have something else that can wake you up. Most modern-day digital watches come with various alarm functions.
Once all the essential watch functions are ticked off, you can look for some bonus perks, such as:
- Altimeter/barometer – if your backpacking trips often include hiking or mountaineering, this feature might come in handy. Altimeters help you keep track of the altitude and work in combination with barometers which provide you with data regarding the air pressure. Feel free to check my list of top hiking watches.
- Thermometer – helps you prepare for a day out accordingly. If you’re not a fan of checking your phone every time you want to learn about the current conditions or the forecast, this is a good feature to have.
- GMT feature – if you’re away from your country but would like to keep track of the time in both destinations, getting a GMT watch makes a lot of sense.