After evaluating over 40 of the best altimeter watches we could find, we tested the top eight side-by-side. Our experts summited mountains, hiked canyons, and lapped climbing routes to find the most accurate altimeters, the most intuitive interfaces, and the longest-lasting batteries. Models feature the essential altimeter, barometer, digital compass, and standard timekeeper, while some offer more functionality, including GPS and activity tracking. After three months of heavy use and meticulous note-taking, we created a review of those that stole our wrists and filled our hearts to new heights. Whether you are looking for a model with the basics at a reasonable price or want a feature-laden, do-it-all altimeter watch, we cut through the nonsense to help you make the best decision.
The Best Altimeter Watches of 2019
|Price||$399.00 at Amazon||$699.00 at Amazon||$245.00 at Amazon||Check Price at Amazon|
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|$229.99 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Comfortable, high quality, easy-to-use, highly accurate, GPS, many features, rechargeable battery||Touch screen, many features, consistent altimeter, clear graphs||Long battery life, durable aluminum finish, great fit, precise, easy-to-use interface||Tons of features, easy to read and use||Amazing features, long battery life for GPS watch, awesome display, easy-to-use, colorful and clear font|
|Cons||Thicker profile, short battery life||Short battery life, inaccurate step counter||Altitude and barometric graphs are sub-par, no GPS, lag on button presses||Very expensive, short battery life, heavy on wrist||Not the most accurate altimeter, poor battery life in comparison to non-GPS, lacks comfort|
|Bottom Line||The Sunnto Ambit3 Peak is the Editors' Choice because of its fantastic accuracy, reliability, and great features.||This is an all-star watch for those who keep to the front country.||This Best Buy Award winner is the best option for those looking for a classic altimeter watch at an affordable price.||A top-of-the-line watch that does way more than measure altitude.||This watches is one of the best multi-sport fitness based watches available but the altimeter function is just average.|
|Rating Categories||Suunto Ambit3 Peak||Suunto 9 Baro||Suunto Core Alu||Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire||Garmin Fenix 3|
|Altimeter Accuracy (30%)|
|Battery Life (20%)|
|Ease Of Use And Interface (20%)|
|Display Quality (10%)|
|Comfort And Fit (10%)|
|Specs||Suunto Ambit3 Peak||Suunto 9 Baro||Suunto Core Alu||Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire||Garmin Fenix 3|
|Dimensions (Inches)||1.97 x 1.97 x 0.71”||2.03 x 2.03 x 0.67 "||1.93 x 1.93 x 0.57”||2.01 x 2.01 x 0.69”||2.01 x 2.01 x 0.69”|
|Type of Battery||Rechargable lithium ion battery||Rechargable lithium ion battery||Watch battery||Rechargable lithium ion battery||Rechargable lithium ion battery|
Best Overall Altimeter Watch
Suunto Ambit3 Peak
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak is our favorite model. The high-quality black and white display add to the user-friendly interface of this watch. When using complex features, it is simple to transfer, view, and manage data on a computer as necessary. We like its ergonomic fit, along with the fact that our wrists didn't sweat too much under the breathable band and watch face. The Ambit3 Peak's altimeter is also one of the most accurate tested.
Similar to GPS watches, this model doesn't boast a long battery life, although it is rechargeable. It is a little bulkier than some other models, but it is also more affordable than most GPS options and is frequently offered at a discount at online retailers. This beast is great for tracking altitude, but also includes tons of extra features we love, such as navigation, fitness tracking, and more.
Read review: Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Best Bang for the Buck
Suunto Core Alu
The Suunto Core Alu is a classic ABC watch designed to get the basics right. It tracks total ascent and descent and offers both barometer and altimeter graphs, a compass, and a reliable, long-lasting battery. Don't be afraid to take this on a multi-day or multi-month mission.
It's not filled with as many features as the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus and doesn't include a GPS. We also wish that the altitude and barometer graphs were a little sleeker. Also, if you are looking for something even a little more affordable, opt for the traditional Core, which costs a lot less. In spite of its drawbacks, we figure that if an altimeter watch is meant to do one thing well, its measure altitude, and that's what the Core Alu does.
Read review: Suunto Core Alu
Best Model for a Shoestring Budget
The Casio SGW300-HB is a bare-bones altimeter watch that is by far the least expensive model we tested. It has basic time-telling functions and a dual-sensor that can track barometric pressure and altitude. Despite its price tag, we were surprised to see that it is still fairly accurate and provided a decent estimate of the altitude when calibrated regularly.
This utilitarian watch lacks sleek styling and an ergonomic fit. It is also less precise than other watches because the altitude reads in 20-foot increments. Because it doesn't come with navigation features like a compass or GPS, it's not a backcountry way-finder. However, if you're in the market for a timepiece and would also like to know the barometric pressure and altitude now and then, this easy-to-use, long-lasting Best Buy winner may be your best bet.
Read review: Casio SGW300-HB
Best Features and Fitness Tracking
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Sapphire
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is much, much more than your basic ABC watch. It certainly includes all of those basic functions, but it also offers fitness tracking features like a heart rate monitor, VO2 max calculator, pulse oximeter, and a huge array of activity tracking modes.
As a GPS-enabled watch, its battery life suffers, but it still lasts much longer than its closest feature-filled competitors, like the Suunto 9 Baro. Though you can easily recalibrate this watch, we found that it doesn't take much to throw off the altimeter. All in all, this watch earns a Top Pick award for its massive array of features for the fitness-tracking gear junky.
Read review: Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel consists of science teacher and endurance athlete Amber King and Ben Applebaum-Bauch, a former backpacking guide with a decade of professional experience in the outdoor industry. Originally from Canada, Amber now resides in southwest Colorado, where she discovered trail running, completing her first half, full, and ultra marathons in one year. Ben has led countless trips through remote parts of northern New England and the Canadian coast in addition to thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, Colorado Trail, and extensive travel on the Appalachian Trail.
We conducted field testing in a few primary locations — the Peruvian Andes, which afforded the opportunity to test the watches at high altitude, and Utah canyon country where we examined how well the GPS worked in canyons. The White Mountains of New Hampshire also provided a prime testing ground with heavy tree cover and sometimes wild weather.
Related: How We Tested Altimeter Watches
Analysis and Test Results
Over several months, we put each altimeter watch to the test. To learn about each one, we tinkered endlessly and poured over the tomes that are the user manuals for these models to make sure we understood these watches' capabilities. We researched issues with particular models that we needed to focus on during testing and read about each watch from other independent reviewers. We also tested each model side-by-side in a wide range of environments and activities. The chart below summarizes the comparative overall performance scores of each model.
Related: Buying Advice for Altimeter Watches
After talking with mountain guides, ultra runners, hikers, and backpackers, we identified six key metrics to consider during testing; altimeter accuracy, battery life, ease of use and interface, the number and quality of features, display quality, and comfort. For each, we designed specific and objective tests and recorded our results. We hope you find our comparison helpful as you consider the purchase of a new ABC watch.
We understand that sometimes pricepoint and value can be a critical factor in determining whether or not a certain product is right for you. One way we get at this is to compare a product's price against its overall score. In addition, getting the most out of your altimeter watch requires an honest appraisal of what you will use it for and how often.
For the casual outdoor enthusiast who wants to know altitude at any given moment on an outdoor excursion, the base model Casio SGW-300H is a fine, affordable option that should satisfy that curiosity. If you are a seasonal backpacking guide or regular distance hiker, you will find value in watches that ultimately cost significantly more, but include a handful of features beyond those of a basic ABC watch that are helpful (and sometimes essential) for those activities. Higher end models like the Suunto Core have barometric pressure readings, records, and graphs, as well as a compass. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak also has GPS functionality for those who prefer to spend time off of marked trails. On the other hand, if you are training for a huge event (e.g. a marathon, ultra, or long trail thru-hike), then fitness-tracking feature-packed models could be well worth the (considerable) investment. These watches, like the Suunto 9 Baro or Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire provide health metric insights that go well beyond an ABC watch.
When we looked at altimeter accuracy, we considered a few things. First, we reviewed the altimeter interval that each watch uses (many can measure in 3-foot increments, while more basic models use 20-foot spreads). Second, we looked at the accuracy of the altimeter reading, calibrating a watch and then hiking to another known altitude. When we hiked back to the trailhead, we noted if the elevation change showed zero, or if the reading was off by a few (hundred) feet. We also considered the frequency of necessary calibration and the range and frequency of a model's inaccuracy (i.e., did it get it right all or most of the time? If it was off, by how much?). Lastly, we looked at how well the watch was able to keep a stable altimeter reading while sitting in the same place for a few days (even with weather changes).
Of the all the watches tested, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak, Suunto Core Alu and Suunto 9 Baro scored the highest in altimeter accuracy. The Ambit3 Peak required fewer calibrations and proved to have an accurate gain and loss profile. This watch, along with the Suunto Traverse and Suunto 9 Baro have the option to use a FusedAlti function that uses both GPS and barometric readings to determine altimeter accuracy.
The Casio PRW-6000Y also provides accurate readings but has a larger altitude interval. Many of the watches display altitude intervals of three feet, as opposed to the Casio's five. The Casio SGW300HB is surprisingly accurate considering its no-frills design. However, it scored the lowest in this category because the altimeter interval is 5m/20ft which provides a less precise reading than the rest. Watches could be off on altimeter readings by as much as 500 feet based on the day of testing, and we were surprised to discover that a watch with GPS does not always lead to more accurate measurements. In heavy tree cover, a limited signal diminishes the reliability of readings.
Battery life is of the utmost importance when heading out on any multi-day mission. Since lots of mountaineers, guides, backpackers, and even hikers require an altimeter watch that lasts more than just a day, battery life is rated highly in this review. In some sense, the more battery life a watch has, the more reliable it is.
For the GPS watches, we set the watch to low power mode to see how long each could hold out with the GPS function running. We also looked at the type of battery and whether or not the watch is self-charging. GPS watches did not do well in this metric, while regular watch batteries proved to be much more reliable.
The watches scoring this highest in this metric are Casio's PAG240B-2 and PRW-6000Y. They are both solar-powered devices that take about six minutes per day in full sunlight to maintain their charge. This is a great plus for any long-term adventurer that needs a reliable compadre. Unlike the PRW6000Y, the Casio SGW300HB features a simple watch battery (not a built-in solar panel) that is rated to last three years. The Suunto Core Alu also has a regular watch battery but is only rated to last 12 months. All other GPS models feature a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that you plug in to charge.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak made it about 22 hours with the GPS mode on with power save options engaged. Without the GPS, this watch lasts roughly one month in regular watch mode. The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire does decently for a GPS watch. It managed about 30 hours of GPS time and over three weeks without it. The Suunto 9 Baro is below average, and the Suunto Traverse has poor battery life. In GPS mode, it only lasted eight hours. It's fine for day hikes, but not multi-day missions. Without GPS, it lasts roughly two weeks before needing a recharge.
Ease of Use and Interface
The ease of use metric measures how intuitive it is to use each altimeter watch. We measured how long it took to calibrate the altitude and set the basic time function the first time for each watch. Though we strongly recommend reading through your model's user manual, we are also interested in 'real-world' use, where, let's face it, people mostly aren't reading manuals cover-to-cover before using their consumer electronics. With that in mind, we tried our hand at configuring the watches without consulting them. We also looked at the button size and how functional each was with a set of gloves that we might wear in cold weather conditions.
After our testing, we learned that the Casio SGW300HB is the easiest to use, while the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire is the easiest to set up. The Suunto brand watches were a close second. We love the simplicity of the touch screen of the Suunto 9 Baro.
The complex Casio PRW-6000Y is the hardest to figure out. We also thought the GPS-based watches (Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire, Suunto 9 Baro, Suunto Traverse, and Suunto Ambit3 Peak) in addition to the Suunto Core Alu, are the easiest to use with gloves. The Casio models are difficult to use with thick gloves as the buttons are recessed a bit more.
Every altimeter watch has a few basic functions. These include an altimeter, barometer, and a timekeeper. Most also come with a compass (making them true ABC watches). There are many models out there, and with more smartphone pairing and app compatibility, as well as more GPS watches entering the market, there are a plethora of features packed into these tiny devices. In this metric, we looked at the features of each watch.
To determine which watch scored the highest, we tallied up the features of each model. We also looked at the quality of the features, whether or not graphs are generated for specific functions (like altitude and barometric pressure), and how helpful the data is on the trail. In the end, we learned that the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire was undoubtedly the best in this category, featuring all the basic altimeter functions and a slew of others. The Suunto 9 Baro is close behind, followed by the Ambit3 Peak. The most basic Casio SGW300HB scored the lowest in this category.
Of all the watches tested, we really liked the GPS watches' features when it came to altimeter readings. In general, we looked at the type of altitude profiles generated (i.e., ascent and descent over time) and the number of logs each watch could store.
Altitude Profiles: The quality of the graphs produced from each watch varies considerably based on the manufacturer and price point. We really like the clarity of the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire as well as its use of different colors for different readings. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak and Suunto Traverse produce the same kind of graph that was also good. The Suunto Core also produces a graph, but we think it is small and harder to read in comparison to the others. The output of the Casio PRW-6000Y only shows the most basic information, and it's hard to see and use. The Casio SGW300HB, on the other hand, does not produce any graphs, one of the many reasons it scored lowest in this category.
Data Logging: All the GPS watches win out again for the type of data taken and the logs they create. All of these models produce records that show an altitude graph, total ascent, total descent, and altitude change. In some cases, they had even fancier features to better analyze the data they collect.
GPS watches again tend to win out because once the logs are synced with a phone or computer app, you can clear the log cache in the watch, which means you can take as many data points as you want. That said, the Suunto Core can hold up to 16 logs, while the Casio PRW-6000Y can hold up to 30. The Casio SGW300HB does not hold any logs.
Barometer: All the watches we tested feature a barometer and capture barometric trends in some way shape or form. For this feature, we looked at the quality of the barometric graph and whether or not the watch allows you to change the sea level pressure manually. We did this by taking the watches to the same location, calibrating them to the same barometric pressure, and looking at the graphs produced as a result.
Overall, we learned the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire shines for its barometric trend graph. It allows a plot timeframe of either 6, 12, 24, or 48-hours, which makes for the most effective pressure trend capture of all the watches tested. The Suunto Ambit3 Peak and Suunto Traverse feature a similar graph, but they can't be adjusted for different time intervals. The outputs also do not look as nice. The Suunto Core has a decent graph that shows a trend over a seven-day period.
All the watches tested in this review (with the exception of the Casio SGW300HB) feature some kind of compass function. Most of the compasses in this review have tilt-compensation technology (meaning you don't have to keep your wrist horizontal to get an accurate watch reading) except for the Casio models which do require a steady wrist to obtain an accurate reading.
If you're into old-school devices, these models might be right up your alley. In general, we find the compasses useful to get a general point of reference, but on the whole, they are not nearly as reliable as a regular compass. If you're planning a bush-whacking bonanza, make sure to bring the old map and compass — don't just use your watch.
Time Keeper and Alarm
They are watches, after all, so all of the models that we tested feature some sort of digital timekeeper in addition to a stopwatch, countdown timer, and alarm. The Casio brand watches like the Casio SGW300HB and the Casio PRW-6000Y stood out for having five alarms as opposed to just one. In addition, both watches feature a world clock with different time zones. The SGW300HB showcases 31 time zones while the PRW-6000Y has 29.
In general, we like GPS watches better for time simply because the GPS automatically changes when entering a different time zone. The Suunto Core, Suunto 9 Baro and Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire have (at least) a dual time option that allows you to enter the current time of your current location in one place, and keep your home time in another. All watches except the Casio PRW-6000Y have a long alarm duration and volume. We would have liked to see a longer beeping time with the Casio as it wasn't long enough to wake us up during some deep sleeps.
To test GPS, we ran three different routes with varying GPS accuracy. The first was an open road, the second, a tree-covered trail, and the last was a canyon. We did these tests multiple times in a variety of weather conditions, to see which truly performed the best. In the end, we learned that none of the GPS watches were 100 percent accurate all of the time, but some watches were a little more reliable with their readings than others. In this case, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak proved to have the best GPS accuracy — most of the time.
Some days, one watch is more accurate than another, even with similar weather conditions. The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire was spot on much of the time but occasionally would have an off day. Of all of the watches tested, the Suunto models proved to be the most accurate most often, except for the Suunto 9 Baro, which was sometimes tragically incorrect. The Suunto Traverse proved to be a little less accurate than the Ambit3 Peak. If you're looking for the watch with the most reliable GPS readings, the Suunto Ambit3 Peak or the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire are your best bets.
When looking at display quality, we simply evaluated each screen, its size, and how easy it is to see during both the day and night. We also looked to see if the background color settings could be changed, and how easy it is to see the watch in a variety of conditions. In the end, a large watch face with a mineralized glass cover and different colors scored higher than those without.
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire and Suunto 9 Baro earn the top spot for this category; we like their sharp and colorful displays. These watches truly stand out from the rest. The Casio PRW-6000Y also proves to have a crisp, non-reflective display. However, we aren't too happy about the tiny digital window that made some of the data hard to see.
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak also has a great display. The font and colors of the watch face for both GPS Suuntos are the same, but the mineral glass is a little bit different. The Suunto Core also provides a nice, easy-to-read display, but the watch face background is not interchangeable like all the other watches mentioned above, and the font is harder to see in bright sun or low light. In addition, the nighttime light is a little weak in comparison to the rest.
The Casio SGW300HB comes in last with its much smaller and less durable watch face. The old-school font is easy to see, but not as nice as the other options out there.
Comfort and Fit
When evaluating comfort and fit, we looked at which watches felt the most comfortable on our wrists. We gave these watches to a slew of friends and family to get some additional input on both. We looked at the band material, the breathability of the band, its weight, whether or not the watch would fit well over and under clothing, and whether or not the band has an ergonomic fit. In the end, watches with a more ergonomic fit, a more breathable band, and slimmer profile scored higher than those without.
The Suunto Core and Suunto 9 Baro are both great options here. The former has a slim watch face that sits comfortably on the wrist. The latter has a nice flexible band (as does the Garmin Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire) that compensates for its bulkier display.
The Casio PRW-6000Y is the only altimeter watch that features a carbon fiber insert in its lightweight construction, making it one of the most durable bands we tested. We also like its ergonomic fit and lighter, thinner profile. The Suunto Traverse also features a lightweight design, but many of our testers did not like the non-breathable band. The band is also attached directly to the watch face, making it less ergonomic than the others.
The Garmin Fenix 5x Plus is big. Even though many of our testers liked the large display for checking stats, we feel that the watch face is large and bulky, and often hard to fit underneath clothing. Its saving grace is a highly flexible, adaptable band. The Casio PAG240B-2 scores lowest; the rigid, thick, scratchy, cloth-like band is not very comfortable to wear. It also proved to be less breathable, and hard to fit over layers.
The altimeter watches that we tested in this category feature important functions that hikers, backpackers, and climbers want most. In addition to telling the time, almost all of these model are true ABC watches, featuring altimeters, barometers, and digital compasses. We tested the performance of each of these attributes all while rating the ease of use and the products' interface to help you narrow down your selection and find the best product to purchase. We know that selecting just one watch from the pack can be difficult, but we hope that this review is a helpful resource.
— Amber King & Ben Applebaum-Bauch