A wooden watch laying in a field of grass

The Best ABC Watches: Hiking Watches Built for the Outdoors

Spending a day in the outdoors, time should be the last thing on your mind and for good reason. You only concerns should be enjoying the outdoors, smelling the roses, and taking it all in.

That being said, an ABC watch isn’t there to remind you when you need to go home. It’s designed to give you information that will make your backpacking, hiking, or outdoor adventure safer and easier to manage.

ABC watches give you a wide range of information that you can use in a plethora of ways that a standard watch simply don’t offer. They help you keep your bearings, give you an idea of when a storm is on deck, and what your elevation is at any given time. These features are just the beginning, depending on the make and model the options increase from there.

An ABC watch is an awesome toy and with all the practical uses they are an intelligent addition to any outdoor gear set. The best part is, they add zero pack weight.

Best Value
Best Choice
Premium Pick
Casio Men's PAG240T-7CR Pathfinder Triple-Sensor Stainless Steel Watch with Titanium Bracelet
Garmin Fenix 3 HR Special Edition, Titanium w/ Titanium DLC Band
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire - Slate Gray with Black Band
Casio Men's PAG240T-7CR Pathfinder Triple-Sensor Stainless Steel Watch with Titanium Bracelet
Garmin Fenix 3 HR Special Edition, Titanium w/ Titanium DLC Band
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire - Slate Gray with Black Band
Best Value
Casio Men's PAG240T-7CR Pathfinder Triple-Sensor Stainless Steel Watch with Titanium Bracelet
Casio Men's PAG240T-7CR Pathfinder Triple-Sensor Stainless Steel Watch with Titanium Bracelet
Best Choice
Garmin Fenix 3 HR Special Edition, Titanium w/ Titanium DLC Band
Garmin Fenix 3 HR Special Edition, Titanium w/ Titanium DLC Band
Premium Pick
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire - Slate Gray with Black Band
Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire - Slate Gray with Black Band

What is an ABC watch anyways?

An “ABC” watch is a multifunctional timepiece designed specifically for outdoor use. The letters in the same stand for… Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass.

All three components contain important pieces of information for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Each function, when used to its full capacity, will help you make the best decisions based on the current environment in the surrounding settings.

What’s an Altimeter?

An altimeters is an instrument used to measure how high above sea level you are, in other words, your altitude. Historically, altimeters were developed for use in the airline industry so pilots understand how close to the ground they are.

There are a couple ways to measure altitude. The first method is to measure the surrounding air pressure and do the calculations from there.

The other method is to bounce a radio beam off the ground and measure how long it takes to return to you, this method is used mainly in planes and helicopters.

Why is your altitude important?

Altitude matters.

When you’re backpacking at high altitudes there is less oxygen available to breath which makes every step more difficult than what you’re accustomed to. It’s important to know your current altitude in order to pace yourself properly so you don’t get completely exhausted or worst case scenario, suffer from altitude sickness.

What’s a Barometer?

According to National Geographic

“A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure, also called barometric pressure. The atmosphere is the layers of air wrapped around the Earth. That air has a weight and presses against everything it touches as gravity pulls it to Earth. Barometers measure this pressure.”

A simple way to explain Barometric pressure is that air has weight and a Barometer measures that weight.

Why is atmospheric (Barometric) pressure important?

Barometric pressure is an indication of potential changes in the weather. It is one of the tools that your local meteorologist uses to predict changes in weather conditions with questionable accuracy. Low pressure is associated with wet, cloudy and windy conditions and high pressure is associated with clear skies. Not an exact science, but better than nothing.

What’s a compass?

A hand holding a compass with the forest in the background

You probably already know the answer to this but here it is anyways.

A compass is a tool that points to the north using the magnetic forces of the earth. All magnets consist of a North and South pole and the North pole is attracted to the South pole. So technically our compasses point to the “South pole” of our planet’s magnetic field which we consider North (source).

Why is a compass important?

For the simple fact that it tells you which direction you are heading. It’s easy to get turned around in the mountains and a compass will keep you pointed in the right direction. Get lost and keep wandering is only cool if you don’t stay lost.

How do ABC watches work?

This gets convoluted so we’re going to try and keep it as simple as possible. It confuses us to be honest.

There are two ways the watch can calculate main sea level pressure and altitude using the pressure sensor that is built into the watch.

  • When you input the altitude it can figure out mean sea level pressure
  • When you input mean sea level pressure it can figure out altitude

If, for some strange reason, you are near a weather station you can find the mean sea level pressure to figure out altitude. Certain watches only let you input altitude since mean sea level is difficult to find.

Calibrating your ABC watch is the only way that you will end up with accurate measurements. Unless you have GPS, then it does all the heavy lifting for you.

Altitude, Barometer and Compass watch buying guide.

As with any other purchase, there are a number questions to ask yourself. Multifunctional watches aren’t cheap, so taking your time before the purchase is an important step in the process.

We’re going to assume you have a general understanding of the ABC portion of the watch. Now, we’ll try and cover some of the other questions that you may have.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments and they will be answered to the best of our abilities.

Does your altitude matter?

Considering that the Altimeter is one of the core functions of a hiking watch, altitude matters. Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is caused by increased exposure to low pressure at high altitudes. At best it has a drastic effect on your overall performance, at worst, it can kill you.

How accurate is the Altimeter?

Your needs are going to vary on the specific use of the watch. If you are a long distance hiker who experiences gradual altitude changes, then your elevation is not that big of a concern. If you are planning on taking a hike at altitude for only one day, then your altitude levels are extremely important.

Most modern watches use a mix of air pressure coupled with GPS to give you an accurate reading. The less you have to manually calibrate your watch, the better.

How long will the battery last?

Considering that ABC watches are built to be outdoors, the life of the battery is one of the most important factors to consider. A watch that doesn’t work is about as useful as a kick to the face.

Depending on how much technology is built in the watch, more specifically a GPS locator, the battery life is going to vary on the amount of usage. The best way to really see how long any watch will last is to turn it on with all the bells and whistles and keep an eye on the clock.

Quite a few of the newer ABC watches now come with solar power capabilities, making battery life a non-issue.

Is GPS necessary with an ABC watch?

These days, most watches built for the outdoors include a GPS.

Can I use it as a daily driver?

With everything that is included in a hiking watch, they are simply larger than your standard watch. Being that they are bigger and bulkier they don’t really translate into everyday use. With the natural advancement in technology, they are getting smaller each and every year.

The best ABC watches for hiking and backpacking

Here is our list of the best watches for hiking, backpacking, and the outdoors.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

Sale
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
1,162 Reviews
Garmin Fenix 3 HR
  • Omni-directional stainless Steel exo antenna, with GPS/GLONASS satellite reception, has the ability to track in more challenging environments than GPS alone
  • Elevate wrist heart rate technology measures heart rate at the wrist
  • Fitness training Features like advanced running dynamics with vertical oscillation and vertical ratio, Vo2 Max, recovery advisor and more
  • 1.2-Inch Sunlight-readable Garmin Chroma display with high-strength domed sapphire lens

The Garmin Fenix 3 has a sleek look and bold design. It comes with a round 218 b 218-pixel display on the face, protected by a Sapphire lens. The face of the watch has five buttons and the watch is water resistant to up to 100 Meters.

The Fenix HR has the same design as the Fenix 3, however, the biggest difference is the heart rate monitor that is built in the to back of the watch. It only protrudes around a millimeter so you don’t even notice it.

There are widgets on the watch menu that you can customize to your liking. The widgets include steps, altimeter, weather, notifications, heart rate, last sport, music controls, compass, barometer, temperature, VIRB camera, and a calendar. Essentially there is a function for nearly anything you can think of.

G-Shock Rangeman

G Shock Rangeman
1,298 Reviews
G Shock Rangeman
  • Solar-powered digital watch in stainless steel with multiple displays, red contrasts, and textured pushers
  • Quartz movement with analog display
  • Protective mineral crystal dial window
  • Features digital compass, altimeter, barometer, thermometer, sunrise and sunset date, time stamp, Mb6 atomic timekeeping, auto LED, 5 Daily Alarms (4 one-time and 1 snooze alarm), 1/10-second stop watch, countdown timer, day/date/month calendar, and buckle closure

In terms of durability, style, and function this watch is tough to compete with. This is the ultimate do everything watch and the price tag is reasonable in terms of ABC watches. This is the first G-shock watch to include the full stack of ABC tech into any of their watches.

This watch can take a beating and since the primary use of ABC watches is the outdoors, this is supremely important. It is a form fitting watch with a variety of options on band length and feels light on the wrist.

There are a ton of functions on top of the full ABC stack including solar power, mud resistance, digital compass, and a large memory capacity. The user interface can take some getting used to, however, once you master it the watch does nearly everything.

Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR

Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR
303 Reviews
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR
  • Suunto Ambit3 peak delivers Stable and accurate altitude and weather information with full navigation in a robust casting
  • Includes built in altimeter, barometer, compass and GPS with 100 meter water resistance
  • One of the most competitive battery hours in the market, 200 hours with 1 minute accuracy
  • Connect Ambit3 peak to your smartphone for syncing your activities, customizing on the go and seeing calls and notifications on the watch

The Ambit 3 Peak is an ultralight ABC watch that makes every other old school ABC watch essentially obsolete. It matches the standard ABC functionality and goes far beyond while not adding the typical weight and mass other watches do. It has a slim, sleek, and all around cool looking design.

The battery is one of the features that sets this watch apart from others on the list. It will run for 23, 30, or 200 hours as long as you have the GPS intervals set for 1, 5, or 60. This gives you plenty of life when you plan on being in the backcountry for a significant amount of time.

This watch is all around awesome. it consistently delivers accurate GPS data, has a long battery life when the GPS is used properly and can be used as navigation using a combination of the GPS and the compass.

Casio Pathfinder

Casio Pathfinder
303 Reviews
Casio Pathfinder
  • Suunto Ambit3 peak delivers Stable and accurate altitude and weather information with full navigation in a robust casting
  • Includes built in altimeter, barometer, compass and GPS with 100 meter water resistance
  • One of the most competitive battery hours in the market, 200 hours with 1 minute accuracy
  • Connect Ambit3 peak to your smartphone for syncing your activities, customizing on the go and seeing calls and notifications on the watch

This watch is popular from outdoorsmen to hardcore backpackers and climbers. The watch is lightweight, the display is crystal clear, and it can take a beating.

The Casio Pathfinder is a solar powered ABC watch that comes with a laundry list of other useful functions for all types of outdoor use. The Pathfinder comes from a long lineage of multi-function watches and with age comes wisdom, or a better watch.

The features in this watch include temperature display, backlight, stylish design, manufacturer guarantee, sunset/sunrise mode, and of course ABC functionality. It requires little to no maintenance and with the solar power ability, battery life is not an issue… Unless you live in a cave, then you’re screwed.

Pro Trek Titanium

Sale
Pre Trek Titanium
574 Reviews
Pre Trek Titanium
  • Solar-power sport watch featuring triple sensor that provides altimeter, barometer, thermometer, and compass information
  • Features low-temperature resistance, backlight with after-glow, world time (31 time zones, 48 cities), city code display, daylight saving on/off, five daily alarms, hourly time signal, 1/100-second stopwatch, full auto calendar, countdown timer, 12/24-hour formats, battery power indicator, and power-saving function
  • 51 mm stainless steel case with mineral dial window
  • Quartz movement with digital display. Full Auto EL Backlight with Afterglow

The Casio Protrek Titanium is a solar powered ABC watch that utilizes an atomic clock to keep time. The atomic clock automatically updates with time calibration signals taken from the US, Japan, England, and Germany. The solar battery has a large capacity, does not require an exorbitant amount of sunlight and holds a charge for months.

The Altimeter tracks altitude (of course) and will keep up to 40 records of elevation gain and loss. The Barometer tracks numerical and graphical data of pressure changes. The digital compass consistently displays your current heading.

Along with the standard ABC watch features, it is resistant in water up to 200m. It also includes time and moon graph data, electroluminescent backlighting, countdown timer, and a thermometer.

Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire

Sale
Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire
921 Reviews
Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire
  • Ultimate multisport GPS watch with full-color TOPO U.S. mapping, routable cycling maps and other outdoor navigation features
  • Fit for adventure with rugged design that features stainless steel bezel, buttons and rear case: Physical size 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 cm;Weight - silicone band: 98 g ; metal band: 196 g
  • Built-in navigation sensors include GPS and GLONASS capability to track in more challenging environments than GPS alone as well as 3-axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter
  • Preloaded run profiles: running, treadmill running, trail running. Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows your training status, training load and more

The Garmin Fenix 5x Sapphire is a full scale multi-function watch. The screen includes a full-color TOPO map for mapping your next outdoor adventure. It has a rugged design with a stainless steel bezel and rear case.

The GPS tracking system utilizes GLONASS location technology which is the next level of GPS. You have the option to customize the display to show whatever is most important for your outdoor excursions.

This watch is the ultimate outdoor companion and a price tag that shows it. As they say, “You get what you pay for.” With the Garmin Fenix 5x you get literally everything besides the kitchen sink.

Suunto Traverse Alpha

Sale
Suunto Traverse Alpha
921 Reviews
Suunto Traverse Alpha
  • Ultimate multisport GPS watch with full-color TOPO U.S. mapping, routable cycling maps and other outdoor navigation features
  • Fit for adventure with rugged design that features stainless steel bezel, buttons and rear case: Physical size 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.8 cm;Weight - silicone band: 98 g ; metal band: 196 g
  • Built-in navigation sensors include GPS and GLONASS capability to track in more challenging environments than GPS alone as well as 3-axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter
  • Preloaded run profiles: running, treadmill running, trail running. Put key stats at your fingertips with the performance widget that shows your training status, training load and more

The Suunto Traverse Alpha is an ABC watch that has all the traditional features of an ABC watch with GPS-enabled options as well. The Altimeter and Barometer are used as a team and there are three profiles you can choose from.

The compass on this watch gives you a direction as well as true north. You have the ability to manually calibrate declination and comes with a pretty cool bearing lock.

This watch was designed to be a fitness tracker so it weighs less than other watches, however, you do sacrifice features. The battery life could be much better and without solar power, it’s something you need to pay close attention to.

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