8 reasons hikers and walkers should get a smartwatch

A hiker's hands checking his smartwatch with desert hills in the background.
lzf/Shutterstock.com

Smartwatches are useful and stylish wearables for everyday use, but they also have some added benefits if you spend a lot of time climbing mountains or hiking trails.

Track your routes as well as workouts

One of the most basic functions of a smartwatch is the ability to track your workouts. This can be motivating whether you are just starting out or a seasoned hiker. Any routes you record can be checked on a smartwatch later, allowing you to see exactly where you’ve been, which is useful for planning repeat excursions or changing routes for next time.

Apple Watch route data

This goes hand in hand with using your smartwatch to improve your fitness. Tracking workouts on Apple Watch is one of the best ways to filling your rings for movement and exercise. Your workouts are recorded in the Fitness app, and you can use the collected data to get a better idea of ​​your overall fitness level.

You can even compete with other Apple Watch users if you’re feeling competitive and looking for extra motivation.

CONNECTED: How your Apple Watch can help you stay active

GPS on your wrist

Smart watch with GPS functionality it can work as a stand-alone GPS device, like those bought specifically for hiking. With the right watch and apps, you can replace your bulky handheld GPS with something that lives on your arm and provides directions and information with a flick of your wrist.

If you’re serious about hiking, a dedicated GPS hiking watch like this one Garmin Fenix will serve you better than Apple Watch or a Samsung Galaxy device. They come with built-in Garmin mapping software and have superior battery life compared to less specialized wearables. You can transfer GPX files to your smartwatch and follow waypoints just like you can on a handheld device.

Garmin Fenix ​​7
Garmin

Even wearables like the Apple Watch work well for shorter commutes if you’re willing to charge frequently. Use apps like WorkOutDoors ($5.99) and Gaia GPS to send GPX files to your Apple Watch or use apps to find nearby trails. AllTrails also works, but the Apple Watch implementation is little more than a remote for the iPhone app.

Never lose your compass

The Apple Watch 5 and later can function as a compass, as can most dedicated hiking smartwatches from Garmin. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 also includes a geomagnetic sensor, meaning it can also be used as a compass using a free app like Samsung compass.

Apple Watch Series 5 Compass
An apple

You probably shouldn’t rely solely on a smartwatch compass for navigation (since it can drain your battery), but as a backup tool, having a compass on your wrist can help you navigate if you get lost or can’t use the sun or position of the moon as a reference.

Get more information about your hike

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 that run on your Apple Watch that can do the same.

You will also get more information about your route used basic workout tracking available on most devices. This includes metrics like elevation, splits (for each mile or kilometer traveled), how long you’ve been moving, and how far you’ve traveled.

Apple Watch workout data in the Fitness app

You can use this information to call when to return if you are against the weather in terms of daylight or weather conditions. This data is also pretty interesting if you’re a bit of a data geek. At the end of the trip, you can see how much energy you’ve burned, which can help you better plan future trips and better understand your dietary needs

The blood oxygen sensor on Apple Watch Series 6 and later can help show you how your O2 changes as you climb or descend. The Garmin Fenix ​​can even show you what altitude you’ve acclimated to. While not all of this data is useful, many people will find it interesting.

CONNECTED: How to measure your blood oxygen levels with your Apple Watch

Get help in an emergency

Apple Watch has fall detection already recognized for saving lives. Once activated, the feature makes a pre-recorded emergency call to notify first responders of your GPS coordinates and then sends messages to nominated emergency contacts to tell them you’re in trouble.

You can also use your Apple Watch to initiate a quick emergency call by pressing and holding the side button until you hear an alert. If you’re injured and can’t reach your smartphone, you can still make emergency calls while your device is in range (about 30 meters or 100 feet).

Enable Emergency SOS on Apple Watch
Tim Brooks / How to Geek

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 messages, and a feature called LiveTrack that lets friends and family track your location in real time. These depend on whether your Garmin device is connected to a compatible device android phones launch Garmin Connect via Bluetooth.

Apple Watch can even monitor heart rate and identify patterns that may signal a cardiac event. This includes an elevated heart rate at rest, which will alert you that something may be wrong. This can help you make wiser decisions, such as not pushing too hard if you’re not feeling well.

Take better selfies on the trail

Who does not love good selfie on top of a mountain, on the edge of a creek, or next to a really interesting rock? Prop up your smartphone, launch the companion app on your smartwatch, and frame your photo perfectly. You can then use a shutter delay to time the photo perfectly so you’re not looking at your watch when the photo is taken.

Using your smartwatch as a viewfinder for your phone’s camera is an underrated feature that’s all too easy to forget. But the feature works surprisingly well and defeats the need to carry (or be seen with) a selfie stick. It also takes the guesswork out of using your camera’s timer function.

It’s not just good for selfies, it’s great for group shots, capturing action, and remotely triggering your device to start shooting video.

Leave your phone in your bag

You probably don’t want to be checking your phone too often while you’re on the trail. An always-connected wearable may not seem entirely compatible with being “unplugged” in nature, but it means you can leave your phone in your bag while still having access to useful features.

Using hands-free aids like Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, you can send quick text messages, take notes and reminders, or even search the web and look up information without reaching for your phone. You can also get information at a glance, such as notifications or weather information, and see who is calling you before you decide whether or not to pick up.

Ask Apple Watch time to Siri
An apple

If you’ve previously used your smartphone as a GPS device to track hikes, you can also offload that job to your smartwatch. This will save your smartphone battery for more important things (like making emergency calls and taking photos).

CONNECTED: How to install Google Assistant on Samsung Galaxy smartwatches

Track your fitness over time

Just hiking, trail running, or trying to walk more? The data you collect as you exercise can help you stay motivated by tracking progress over time. This is especially true of the Apple Watch, which does a great job of showing trends in the iPhone’s Health app using data collected from your workouts.

The more you track, the more data you collect. Before long, you’ll have enough raw data for metrics like daily steps, active energy burned, VO² max, resting heart rate, walking heart rate, and other fitness metrics. You can see them on the chart to get a better idea of ​​the direction you are trending.

For example, here’s the improvement we saw in resting heart rate over a year, with improved cardio health (thanks to more regular walking) and weight loss:

Heart rate at rest App Health

And here’s what all of this does for your walking heart rate, too:

Feeling when walking in the Health app

Apple’s Fitness app also helps you feel good about positive trends by highlighting successes:

Keep It Going trends in Apple Fitness

While showing you areas you might want to improve:

Trends worth checking out at Apple Fitness

The Achilles heel of Apple’s system is that it’s built on a model of infinite improvement that even professional athletes can’t achieve. You’ll end up having a slow week where your pace slows down or you just can’t make it to the gym and that will affect your tendencies.

These features are not limited to the Apple ecosystem, with Garmin Connect app providing a similar interface for analyzing data collected from hiking, running and other forms of exercise. For Galaxy Watch owners, Samsung Health does a similar job.

Choose the right smartwatch

Make sure that choose the right smartwatch. For iPhone users, the Apple Watch is probably the best choice, unless you’re a very serious hiker looking to replace a handheld GPS with something like the Garmin Fenix ​​(and even then, some Fenix ​​features only work with Android).

Lifestyle wearables like the Apple Watch series and the Samsung Galaxy Watch are arguably better everyday devices, but fall short of Garmin’s offerings in this area. They will need to be charged more often and lack dedicated navigation features, but they integrate better into their respective smartphone ecosystems.

Whatever you choose, if you’re doing a multi-day trip, you’ll want to portable battery pack too.

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