UPDATED: Our Equipment and Accessory Buyer Jon Wickham has written a 2017 Update to this Article - Link HERE - Which Watch 2017
Technology is creeping more and more in to the outdoors, and one of the most obvious signs of this is GPS watches. The plethora of options is getting increasingly complex so I will try and give you a quick rundown of the different watches, and how you can make a choice. You’ll also see the nice infographic we have created on the facing page to help you make your choice.
We stock two brands of watches: Suunto and Garmin. They both specialise in watches for the outdoor customer, and so are well versed in the need for watches to be water resistant, durable and easy to use. We believe that this gives them an edge over other ‘smart watches’ and activity tracker brands. Between these two brands, we can offer a good range of options to suit most people.
See a larger version of the flowchart.
Often customers ask which brand is best. The simple answer is that they are both good, and many of their watches very comparable. Hopefully this guide will show you a few of the nuances that separate them.
The first question to ask yourself is, what activities will you be using the watch for? This is important as some watches have a number of different modes or profiles, which are designed to make the best its features for a specific sport. Others only have a single mode, often geared more towards running or walking, and so maybe a little limiting if you want to use it for a variety of activities.
The next question will be, are you interested in accurate altitude data? GPS devices themselves aren’t very good at telling height above sea level, so if you are interested in this then choose a watch with a barometric altimeter. It’s handy for people who are training in more hilly terrain, where this will have a greater bearing on your training or route, than if you are simply running on, say, a canal towpath.
If you are training, then having the ability to pair the watch with a Heart Rate Monitor (usually on a chest strap) is a great idea. This will show you how hard you are working, which allows you to target your training for different end results. Typically these will either be fat burning, endurance or speed. Most of the Heart Rate capable watches we recommend come with the strap included, but they can be available separately.
Checking the fit of the watch is also a good idea. Due to the size of the aerial on many watches, plus larger faces to display information, some watches can feel quite bulky on the wrist. We would say that most people quickly get used to this, however for those with narrower wrists it’s a good idea to try the watches on before buying.
It is also worth considering whether you will be wearing your watch day-to-day, or purely for exercise. Some watches definitely shout SPORT, whereas others are perhaps a bit subtler. Choosing a watch that is aesthetically right for you is another good reason to try them on in-store.
A very brief guide to the models we stock:
A simple watch for runners, the Forerunner 10 has no ability to record heart rate so it’s great if you just want to see how far you’ve been. All in a small, water resistant watch.
Forerunner 220 (soon to be replaced by the Forerunner 230)
For more regular runners who wish to record their heart rate, to ensure they are training at the right intensity for their goals. The heart rate function also allows a better idea of calories burnt.
Forerunner 620 (soon to be replaced by the Forerunner 630)
The watch for the serious runner who will probably be following a specific training programme, multiple days per week, and working towards very specific goals like an upcoming race.
The watch for triathletes. Builds on the functions of the 620, but adds swim and cycle modes, and can switch between these mid-race. Also has a barometer for accurate altitude.
Multiple different sport modes available, beyond simply swim/bike/run. Also includes Altimeter, Barometer and Compass, making this ideal for use in the mountains. This and the Epix are the only watches in the Garmin range which give you an OS grid reference. Both have colour screens.
The only dedicated sports watch which can display OS mapping. Takes most of the features from the other Garmin watches, making this extremely versatile and capable.
Having taken over from the Suunto Vector, this has traditionally been the choice for mountaineers and walkers. Altimeter, Barometer and Compass functions to assist navigation, but no GPS, Heart Rate or Training functions.
Only just released, and best thought of as a Core with GPS which can give you an OS grid reference for navigating. Very limited training functions, so some people may be better off with the Garmin Fenix or Suunto Ambit range. However, ideal for many walkers and climbers. (Find out what Mark though of the Suunto Traverse).
Ambit 3 Run
Suunto’s entry level runners watch (no other sport modes on this). Goes up against the Garmin Forerunner 230 and 620. Also includes the ability to show an OS grid reference, making it great for those who want a less expensive navigation tool.
Ambit 3 Sport
Going up against Garmin’s Forerunner 920XT, this is also aimed at triathletes, or anyone who does a variety of sports. Like the ‘Run’ version this will also give you a grid reference, but doesn’t have a barometer.
Ambit 3 Peak
The top of Suunto’s range bringing together all the previous functions into one watch. Competes directly with Garmin’s Fenix 3, and has very similar features.
There are many more functions in these watches than I have been able to cover here. If you would like to know more, then it’s a great idea to pop into the store so our staff can answer any of your questions and you can see the watches ‘in the flesh’. Alternatively, browse Garmin and Suunto on our shop, or contact us by phone or email.
2 December 2015 by Jon Wickham
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Julie Carter will be joining us for an evening talk on THE ART OF ADVENTURE