A pricey but peerless piece of wearable tech, the innovative and ingenious Garmin 6S Pro Solar watch leads the field when it comes to multifunctional, multisport smartwatches with a plethora of features for adventurers and outdoors people of all persuasions.
Solar power boost
Edit multiple power modes to prolong battery
Best navigation features
Huge amount of performance data
Good for walking and multiple activities
Solar less effective in less sunny climates
Almost overwhelming number of features
You can trust Advnture
Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar: first impressions
The Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar is a watch with pedigree. The Garmin Fenix family has been around for almost two decades now, and each generation of the watch has instantly sprinted out to lead the field of adventure-sport-orientated wrist tech.
We are up to iteration 6 now, but there are numerous versions of the Fenix 6 Pro, all of them boasting a premium look, feel and vibe with a sturdy and stylish construction. Although it’s thinner and lighter than its predecessor – the Fenix 5 Plus – the Fenix 6 Pro is still heavier and slightly bulkier than most running watches on the market and that’s noticeable even when cinched down tightly on your wrist.
It also has one of the biggest screens you’ll find on a running watch – but with the level of mapping that’s available on these watches, that’s definitely a bonus (the screen can show up to seven different metrics on a single display). That extra size is also beneficial now that the Pro Solar versions have been developed, with glass screens that soak up energy from the sun.
The mapping tech and the innovative solar charging ability are two reasons why the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar won advnture.com’s inaugural tech award for the Best GPS Smartwatch earlier this year and comes top in our best GPS watches buying guide, but there are a plethora of features and functions that make this watch an incredible piece of kit for everyone from trail runners to hikers, bikers and outdoor generalists.
• RRP: $$986 (US) / £730 (UK)
• Display Size: 30.4mm / 1.2in
• Display Type: Sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP), 240 x 240 pixels
• Screen Material: Power Glass
• Bezel Material: Stainless steel
• Thickness: 14.2mm / 0.56in
• Phone Connection: Yes
• Accessory Connection: Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, ANT+
• Charging Time: Sub 3 hours
• Battery Life: Up to 9 days/10.5 days with solar
In the field
This category-leading watch has a discombobulating amount of capability – we’ve been using it for running, hiking, backpacking, wild swimming, mountain biking, road cycling, climbing, kayaking, canoeing and SUPing for well over nine months now, and we’re still finding new features to play with. It truly is on a par with the best navigation apps (but don’t rely on it exclusively – it’s still handy to know how to read a map and how to use a compass.
Probably the most impressive innovation Garmin have introduced in the Fenix 6 Pro Solar is (clue in the name) the Power Glass, which sucks energy from the Sun and gives you whole days’ worth of additional power. You still need to plug it in every now and then, if you want to use the GPS functionality (and other features that use lots of juice) but this is definitely the watch face of the future, and it’s a huge improvement on a watch where the beleaguered battery has sometimes struggled to keep up with the power-sapping functionality it offers.
Many people will associate these watches with trail running, and there are umpteen ways of using the Fenix family for recording runs: there’s the clever PacePro feature, which helps keep you on pace with grade-adjusted pacing guidance as you run a course; the Training Effect feature that measures the aerobic impacts of a workout; and the VirtualRacer, Virtual Partner and Virtual Pacer features, which allow you to compete against your previous personal best times on a known course.
But there are also preloaded activity profiles for swimming, biking, hiking, rowing, skiing, SUP, surfing, bouldering, indoor climbing… the list goes on. The improved Garmin Elevate technology measures heart rate at the wrist, giving you the option to track heart rate data during all of these activities without wearing a chest strap.
And the Pro Solar is a fantastic tool for walkers. On multiday hikes, the solar charging capability is an obvious advantage, but for really epic adventures the ‘Expedition mode’ extends the battery life even longer (up to 20 days / 26 days with solar) with an ultralow-powered GPS reference setting.
As well as recording your escapades, you can use the watch to navigate, with TopoActive maps right on your wrist. The watch gives you access to several global navigation satellite systems (GPS obviously, but also GLONASS and Galileo) and you can plot your route with ABC sensors – including an altimeter (for elevation data), barometer (for monitoring weather conditions) and a three-axis electronic compass. If you’re following a particular preloaded trail the watch will provide turn-by-turn directions, ‘Trendline’ routing will reveal the most popular local paths wherever you are, and ‘round-trip routing’ will take you back to your starting point if you get lost.
The watch can also monitor your heart rate and even your fluid intake, besides allowing you to buy things via Garmin Pay, and store music that you can play without having to carry your phone around. Oh, and it tells the time too. It’s very expensive (the non-solar version is cheaper: $649 / £432), but if you like to take top notch technical tools trekking, this is pretty much the best GPS watch for walkers, runners, riders and outdoor enthusiasts.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.