Apple has just released its first rugged smartwatch designed for the rough and tumble of life outdoors. The Apple Watch Ultra is much chunkier and tougher than its siblings, the Apple Watch Series 8 and SE, with a bigger battery to keep it running for longer between charges. It also boasts multi-band GPS (which proved extremely impressive in our tests, establishing a lock easily even in difficult environments) and a huge, bright high-resolution AMOLED display that's just perfect for maps.
It's a superb device, but unfortunately for many outdoor enthusiasts, its $799 / £849 asking price is simply going to be too steep. That's why I've put together this list of alternative watches that will help you find your way in the backcountry, track your training, and improve your fitness, without blowing your budget. These are all watches that I've tested myself, and would recommend to friends and family.
1. Amazfit T-Rex 2
The best cheap adventure watch around, without question
Yes, you're seeing the price below this text correctly – the Amazfit T-Rex 2 is an extremely impressive adventure watch that's perfect for life on the trails, and doesn't cost as much as a new family tent. When I asked the folks at Amazfit how they manage to keep prices so low, they told me it's because they make so many components in-house rather than buying them in from third-party suppliers.
The T-Rex 2 gives you a whole lot for your money, including a striking AMOLED display with super smooth scrolling, a seriously tough case (with a cleverly designed little metal bumper to protect its most important buttons), and battery life measured in weeks rather than hours or days. That assumes you're not using the screen's always-on mode, but the auto-wake is so well implemented, you don't need to.
You don't get a packed app store for third-party tools, but with native GPX support and navigation tools, that's not such a big loss.
2. Garmin Instinct 2
A super tough adventure watch with incredible battery life
When anyone asks me to recommend a tough GPS watch for camping and hiking, the Instinct series is one of the first that comes to mind. These watches are built like tanks (you'd have to be trying extremely hard to do any significant damage to them) and their battery life is frankly ridiculous, particularly if you opt for one of the solar models. In theory you could keep one running indefinitely on a single charge in power saving mode, but even with regular use of GPS, continuous heart rate monitoring, SpO2 tracking and other tools, it'll be weeks and weeks before you have to plug yours into its charger.
Now, there are some downsides to be aware of. First of all, watches in the Instinct series all have monochrome memory-in-pixel (MiP) displays, which are great for power saving, and good and clear in all light conditions, but aren't great for maps. You can transfer routes to your Instinct 2 in GPX format, but you might have a hard time following them as you won't have a proper high-res map on screen, only a vague indication of which direction to take.
You'll definitely want to use a regular paper map for navigation, but if you mainly want a tough watch that will do an excellent job of tracking hikes and trail runs for days on end, the Instinct 2 is a great option.
3. Polar Grit X Pro
The Polar Grit X Pro is an excellent watch for hiking, trail running, and other adventure sports, and it's around half the price of the Apple Watch Ultra. Don't let its classy looks fool you – this is an exceptionally tough timepiece that'll shrug off knocks and scrapes if you're enjoying a bit of climbing or bouldering.
Like the Ultra, it achieved a GPS lock extremely quickly in my tests, and there are excellent route and navigation profiles. The absence of topographic maps is a bit of a shame (for that, check out the Garmin Epix Gen 2 or Forerunner 955), but it's otherwise great.
Polar made its name in heart rate monitoring tech, so it comes as no surprise that the Grit X Pro offers particularly great biometric tracking. I also appreciated the Fuelwise feature, which helps you manage your intake of carbs and water during long distance expeditions.
4. Garmin Enduro
A mammoth GPS watch with battery life to match
The Garmin Enduro 2, released earlier this year, is around the same price as the Apple Watch Ultra, but the original Enduro is still an excellent watch for outdoor adventures, and can now be found much more cheaply.
Despite owning a newer watch, I got serious watch envy recently when following a GPX route alongside a friend who owns an original Enduro. Its screen is huge, allowing you to see upcoming turns well in advance, with plenty of detail.
Battery life is excellent too; all Enduro watches are equipped with Garmin's Power Glass to keep their batteries topped up while you're adventuring outdoors, and the original Enduro can provide up to 150 hours of GPS tracking with sufficient sunlight.
5. Apple Watch Series 8 (or below)
The latest iteration of Apple's classic wearable, with improved GPS
The Apple Watch Series 8 might not have the same tough build as the Ultra, but with the right apps installed and a protective case, it might serve your purposes just as well. The Series 8 has the same dual-band GPS as its tougher counterpart, plus a bright, crisp display that's great when used in conjunction with one of the best navigation apps like Komoot,
If the Series 8 is beyond your budget, it's worth taking a look at an older model like the Series 6 or 7. All devices from the Series 4 onwards are compatible with the latest version of Apple's wearable operating system, WatchOS 9, so you'll still benefit from new features like heart rate zone training, running form metrics, and custom workouts.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).