Smartwatches are useful and stylish wearables for everyday use, but they also have some added benefits if you spend a lot of time in the mountains or on hiking trails.
Track your routes like workouts
One of the most basic features of smartwatches is the ability to track your workouts. This can be motivating if you are just starting out or are already an experienced hiker. Any routes you record can be checked later on the smartwatch, allowing you to see exactly where you’ve been, useful for planning repeat excursions or changing routes next time.
This goes hand in hand with using smartwatches to improve your fitness. Tracking your workouts on your Apple Watch is one of the best ways to fill up your Movement and Exercise rings. Your workouts are saved in the Fitness app and you can use the collected data to better understand your overall fitness level.
You can even compete against other Apple Watch users if you’re feeling competitive and looking for some extra motivation.
GPS on the wrist
A GPS-enabled smartwatch can work as a standalone GPS device, like those purchased specifically for hiking. With the right watch and apps, you can replace your bulky portable GPS with something that lives on your arm and provides guidance and information with a flick of your wrist.
If you’re serious about hiking, a dedicated hiking GPS watch like the Garmin Fenix will serve you better than an Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy device. They come with built-in Garmin mapping software and have longer battery life compared to less specialized wearables. You can transfer GPX files to your smartwatch and follow waypoints just like you would on a portable device.
Even everyday wearables like the Apple Watch are good for short trips, as long as you’re willing to charge them frequently. Use apps like WorkOutDoors ($5.99) and Gaia GPS to send GPX files to your Apple Watch, or use apps to find nearby routes. AllTrails works too, but the Apple Watch implementation is nothing more than a remote for the iPhone app.
Never lose your compass
Apple Watch 5 and up can double as a compass, as do most dedicated hiking smartwatches from Garmin. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 also includes a geomagnetic sensor, which means it can also be used as a compass using a free app like Samsung Compass .
You probably shouldn’t rely on a smartwatch’s compass just for navigation (since the battery can fail), but as a backup tool, having a compass on your wrist can help you navigate if you get lost or find you can’t use the sun or the position of the moon. as a guide.
Get more information about your trip
Some smartwatches are designed with navigation in mind, allowing you to see the location of your next waypoint right on your wrist. This is especially true for Garmin devices like the aforementioned Fenix, but there are also apps running on the Apple Watch that can do the same.
You’ll also get more information about your route using the basic workout tracking available on most devices. This includes metrics such as climb, intervals (per mile or kilometer travelled), how long you have been moving, and how far you have traveled.
You can use this information to make a call about when to turn back if you are behind on time in terms of daylight or weather conditions. This data is also quite interesting if you are a bit of a data lover. At the end of your trip, you can see how much energy you’ve burned, which can help you better plan for future trips and better understand your dietary needs.
The blood oxygen sensor on Apple Watch Series 6 and later can help you show how oxygen levels change as you go up or down. The Garmin Fenix can even show you how high you’ve acclimated to. While not all of this data is useful, many people will find it interesting.
Get help in an emergency
Fall detection on the Apple Watch is already credited with saving lives. Once enabled, the feature makes a pre-recorded emergency call to notify first responders of your GPS coordinates, and then sends messages to all designated emergency contacts to let them know you’re in trouble.
You can also use your Apple Watch to quickly initiate an emergency call by pressing and holding the side button until you hear an alert. If you are injured and cannot reach your smartphone, you can still make emergency calls as long as your device is within range (about 30 meters or 100 feet).
The Samsung Galaxy Watch line has a similar feature from 2020, which can send an SOS alert if it detects a fall, or send a similar alert if the home key is pressed three times.
Garmin models like the Fenix have similar safety features, including incident detection, SOS messaging, and a feature called LiveTrack that allows friends and family to track your location in real time. This depends on whether your Garmin device is connected to a compatible Android phone with Garmin Connect via Bluetooth.
The Apple Watch can even track your heart rate and spot patterns that could signal a heart attack. This includes an elevated resting heart rate, which will alert you that something might be wrong. This can help you make wiser decisions, such as not pushing too hard if you don’t feel well.
Take the best selfies on the trail
Who doesn’t love taking good selfies on top of a mountain, at the edge of a stream, or next to a really interesting rock? Prop up your smartphone, launch the companion app on your smartwatch and take the perfect shot. You can then use the shutter delay to accurately time the shot so you don’t have to look at your watch while taking the shot.
Using your smartwatch as a viewfinder for your phone’s camera is an underrated feature that’s all too easy to forget. But this feature works surprisingly well and eliminates the need to carry around a selfie stick. It also takes the guesswork out of using your camera’s timer feature.
It’s good not only for selfies, but also for group shots, action capture, and remote triggering of your device to start capturing video.
Leave your phone in your bag
You probably don’t want to check your phone too often while you’re on the go. An always-connected wearable might not seem like a completely “plug-and-play” thing in nature, but it does mean you can leave your phone in your bag while still accessing useful features.
Using hands-free tools like Apple Siri and Google Assistant, you can send quick text messages, take notes and reminders, or even surf the web and look up information without reaching for your phone. You can also quickly get information like notifications or weather information and see who is calling you before deciding whether to answer or not.
If you have previously used your smartphone as a GPS device to track hikes, you can also transfer that work to your smartwatch instead. This will save your smartphone’s battery for more important things (like making emergency calls and taking photos).
Keep track of your fitness over time
Are you just starting to walk, cross-country, or are you trying to walk more? The data you collect during your workout can help you stay motivated by tracking your progress over time. This is especially true for the Apple Watch, which does a great job of displaying trends in the Health app on the iPhone using data collected from your workouts.
The more you track, the more data you collect. You’ll soon have enough raw data on metrics such as daily steps, active energy expended, maximum oxygen uptake, resting heart rate, walking heart rate, and other fitness metrics. You can see them on the chart to better understand which direction you are in.
For example, here’s the improvement we’ve seen in resting heart rate over the course of a year, with improved cardiovascular health (thanks to more regular walking) and weight loss:
And here’s how all this affects the heart rate when walking:
Apple’s Fitness app also helps you feel good about positive trends by highlighting successes:
It also shows areas you might want to improve:
The Achilles heel of the Apple system is that it is built on a model of endless improvement that even professional athletes cannot achieve. Eventually, you’ll have a slow week where your pace slows down or you just can’t hit the gym and that will affect your tendencies.
These features are not limited to the Apple ecosystem: the Garmin Connect app provides a similar interface for analyzing data collected from walking, running, and other types of exercise. Samsung Health does a similar job for Galaxy Watch owners.
Choose the right smart watch
Make sure you choose the right smart watch. For iPhone users, the Apple Watch is probably the best bet, unless you’re a very serious traveler looking to replace your portable GPS with something like the Garmin Fenix (and even then, some of the Fenix’s features only work with Android).
Everyday wearables like the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch series are arguably better suited for everyday use, but are inferior to Garmin’s offerings in this area. They will need to be charged more frequently and lack dedicated orientation features out of the box, but they integrate better into their respective smartphone ecosystems.
Whatever you choose, if you are going on a multi-day trip, you will also need a portable battery.