5 Best Backcountry GPS Watches [Updated 2021]

Safety is a huge factor to take seriously when going out in the backcountry, whether it’s to ski or go camping with friends. There’s one piece of gear that will give you much needed peace of mind during your adventure, and that’s having a GPS watch. With that being said, we’re going over the best backcountry GPS watches in this post.

Importance of a GPS Watch

A reliable GPS can be one of the most useful tools that you can ever have on hand when you head out into the backcountry. For those that are heading out into the backcountry and want to find ways to lighten to load, a GPS watch can be a great solution. Some of the other benefits that a GPS watch offers include improved safety, effective tracking of your activity level, and effective navigational capabilities that can prove to be valuable for many reasons. Many GPS watches also come with outstanding exercise features that can help you to track things such as calories and heart rate.

This guide is designed to help you with your goal of finding the best GPS watch for your adventures in the backcountry. There are a lot of great products on the market so we have narrowed it down to the top 5 that consistently rank highly with those that have purchased them. These are the 5 best backcountry GPS watches for 2021.

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Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire Premium Multisport GPS Watch

The Fenix 6 Sapphire Premium Multisport GPS Watch from Garmin is built to stand up to the elements. The watch has a transflective LCD that is ideal for helping to extend battery life.

It also offers a crisp visual display and easy to utilize menus. These are a few of the key factors that have made this GPS watch such a popular option with today’s backcountry enthusiasts.

It is an outstanding tool to have on hand when heading out on a long hike or skiing in the backcountry.

Features and Specs

  • Screen size 1.3 inches
  • Bluetooth and ANT+ smart sensors
  • GPS battery life up to 36 hours
  • Batteries included
  • MIP LCD display
  • Worldwide map
  • 24/7 activity tracking
  • Waterproof to 100m


Q: Can this GPS watch track heart rate and calorie count on exercises such as rowing machine, bodypump, and grit?
A: Yes, the device comes preloaded with a wide variety of exercise apps that cover a full range of possibilities.

Q: Is this a U.S. version of this watch?
A: It is the U.S. version.

Q: Does this watch offer text notifications?
A: Yes, it can offer text notifications when paired up with an Android or IOS device.


  • Outstanding battery life
  • A large choice of sport options
  • Comfortable for all-day wear
  • Durable and capable of standing up to the elements


  • This premium GPS watch carries a price tag that might cause some to look elsewhere
  • The mapping can be a bit on the basic side

SUUNTO Ambit3 Peak Running GPS Unit HR Monitor

The Ambit3 Peak Running GPS Unit HR Monitor watch from SUUNTO is the next product on our list of the 5 best backcountry GPS watches. It is an outstanding option for running, backpacking, and hiking use and has durability that allows it to take on the conditions present in the backcountry.

Whether you are a distance runner or an individual who needs a reliable GPS watch for backcountry use, this is one of the most popular options available. It also comes at a reasonable price for a quality GPS watch.

Features and Specs

  • Dimensions: 5x4x4 inches
  • Batteries included
  • Color – black
  • Accurate altitude and water information
  • Can be connected to your smartphone
  • Route navigation and trackback
  • Compass
  • 30-hour battery life


Q: Does this watch come with the original SUUNTO Ambit3 heart rate belt?
A: Yes, it does come with it.

Q: Does this watch always come with the power cable included?
A: Yes, the power cable and heart rate monitor are included.

Q: Does this watch count your daily number of steps?
A: Yes, it does. You have to download a step counter and then it will do this.


  • Reasonably priced for the quality that this product offers
  • A long-lasting battery
  • An accurate barometer


  • Some users complain about the USB charger

CakCity Multisport GPS Hiking Watch With Compass

The Multisport GPS Hiking Watch With Compass from CakCity is another one of our listings for the top 5 backcountry GPS watches of 2021. This watch ranks highly among those who have purchased it due to the many useful features that it offers. These include six different sports modes such as climbing, walking, and hiking. You can also stay connected with smart notifications if you utilize a compatible smartphone device.

Features and Specs

  • Silicone band
  • Band width – 9.45 inches
  • Step tracker
  • Altimeter
  • Barometer
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Thermometer
  • Battery life – Up to 7 days normal mode, 13 hours in GPS mode


Q: Is the compass easy to use? Does it read digitally?
A: Yes, the compass feature is designed to be easy to read on this GPS watch.

Q: What is the size of the case?
A: The case size is 16mm thick, 50.5mm in diameter.

Q: Is it possible to shut the GPS off?
A: When the watch is in normal use mode, the GPS is shut off.


  • User-friendly design
  • Outstanding GPS watch for a variety of outdoor activities
  • Lots of useful features


  • Some who have purchased this watch complain that the instructions are difficult to follow

Garmin Forerunner 35 Easy-to-Use GPS Running Watch

The Forerunner 35 Easy-to-Use GPS Running Watch from the team at Garmin is the next featured product on the list. This watch offers the kind of outstanding features that you look for in a quality GPS watch. This includes various modes for running, cycling, and walking.

Features and Specs

  • Dimensions: 1.4×0.5×1.6 inches
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • Worldwide map
  • 1GB of memory
  • Estimates heart rate at the wrist
  • Smart notifications
  • Automatically uploads data to Garmin Connect


Q: Would this GPS watch fit a small wrist?
A: The 35 is a good option for those with small wrists.

Q: Does this watch track elevation gain during a run?
A: Yes, it does track elevation gain during running. It also does so during cycling.

Q: Is this GPS watch waterproof?
A: Yes, this watch is waterproof.


  • A cost-effective GPS watch that still offers quality
  • Outstanding GPS tracking capability
  • Excellent Battery life
  • Supports ANT+ sensors


  • Lacks some popular GPS watch features such as stress tracking

Garmin Instinct Rugged GPS Watch

The Instinct Rugged GPS Watch from Garmin is notable for its rugged construction that makes it a perfect choice when heading into the backcountry. Its outdoorsy design has made it popular with those who have an adventurous spirit. Some of the strong attributes of this GPS watch include its large array of sensors, its quality tracking tech, and its waterproof quality.

Features and Specs

  • Barometric altimeter plus
  • Monitors heart rate, activity, and stress
  • Comes with preloaded activity profiles
  • Built-in 3 axis compass
  • Rugged construction


Q: Are the controls relatively simple to use on this GPS watch?
A: The watch is designed to be straightforward to use.

Q: What is the battery life for this GPS watch?
A: The battery lasts up to 14 days in smartwatch mode. When the GPS mode is on, it lasts up to 16 hours.

Q: Does the watch offer smart notifications?
A: The watch does provide smart notifications when linked to a compatible smartphone.


  • Outstanding battery life
  • Reasonably priced
  • Rugged, durable design


  • Only had breadcrumb navigation
  • No Garmin Connect app available

Criteria to Look For

When you are choosing a GPS watch, you need to ensure that you are buying a product that has a track record for being effective and accurate. You also need to take into consideration the type of use that you will put it to. If you are going to be using your GPS watch in the deep of the backcountry, you need one that has a sturdy design that can hold up against the elements.

For this reason, many backcountry enthusiasts choose military GPS watches that can handle use in rugged situations. As with most products, you get what you pay for. This is not to say that you have to purchase the most expensive GPS watch on the market, but it is a purchase that is worth spending some money on for a good one.

It should also be noted that there are a variety of different features offered with today’s GPS watches. You need to ensure that the watch that you purchase has all of the features you are seeking. All GPS watches should be able to provide you with distance and time data as well as real-time speed. Many models also offer features such as cadence sensors, and heart rate monitors.

What to Avoid

When you are purchasing a GPS watch for backcountry use, the most important thing is to avoid purchasing a cheap product that will fall apart when it gets subjected to rugged backcountry conditions. You also want to ensure that you purchase a watch that is a good fit for your wrist. You don’t want to purchase a watch that is going to fit loosely. This could end up being a liability in the backcountry.


I hope you liked this post on the best backcountry GPS watches. If you liked this post, you may also like our guides on the best backcountry First-Aid Kits and our guide on the best backcountry water filters.