New low power mode makes Apple Watch Ultra even better for backpacking

Apple Watch Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

Apple has rolled out a software update for the Apple Watch Ultra that adds a new extra low power mode, dramatically extending the device's battery life for activities like backpacking expeditions.

When the Apple Watch Ultra launched last month, it essentially had three power modes. First. there was Normal Use, which is the default setting. This includes use of LTE for transferring data and making calls, GPS workout tracking, all-day heart rate monitoring, fall detection, always-on screen – the works. With this mode enabled, you can expect battery life of around 36 hours.

Second, there's Normal Use Outdoor Workout mode, which is designed for long distance events with continuous GPS tracking. In this mode, all sensors and tools are enabled except LTE, with expected battery life of around 12 hours.

Third, the watch's Low Power Mode extends battery life several hours by disabling certain non-essential settings. This mode still offers GPS tracking and all-day heart rate monitoring, but turns off tools like irregular heart beat detection and automatic workout detection, along with the always-on display. With this setting enabled, you should be able to monitor and record an entire Ironman triathlon event (around 14 hours of continuous GPS tracking). In this mode, you can expect battery life of around 15 hours.

Now there's a fourth option: Low Power Mode workout with fewer GPS and heart rate readings. This is designed to maximize battery life for activities like backpacking weekends, while still giving you access to the watch's most important features. It still includes GPS and heart rate tracking, but takes measurements less frequently. Cellular connectivity is still enabled, but will only check for updates once an hour. In this mode, you can expect battery life up to 60 hours.

How to use it

Once you're received the update to watchOS 9.1, you can turn on Low Power Mode workout with fewer GPS and heart rate readings by following these steps:

  • Go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health and turn off 'Optimized Charge Limit'
  • Return  to the home screen and swipe up from the bottom to see Control Center
  • Tap the battery percentage, turn on Low Power Mode and scroll to the bottom
  • Tap 'Turn On'
  • Go to Settings > Workout > Fewer GPS and heart rate readings

It's worth noting that Apple's battery life estimates aren't necessarily directly comparable with stats from other GPS watch makers. Garmin, for example, usually gives several different battery life estimates for its watches, including one for smartwatch mode, which means no GPS activity tracking at all, and one for continuous GPS tracking. Typical battery life in normal use will be somewhere between the two.

By contrast, Apple's quoted 36-hour battery life for the Apple Watch Ultra in its standard battery mode includes a GPS workout, using the screen in always-on mode, and using LTE data. In light use, you might find that it lasts several hours longer between charges.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 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), usually wearing at least two sports watches.