Gearbox: 2024 Sport Watches

Editors’ Choice: Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar

Our tester wants to get one thing straight about the Suunto Vertical Titanium Solar watch: It’s expensive. “I cringe at seeing a price tag that’s on par with the value of my old Subaru,” he said, “but if you can afford it, the Vertical is worth every penny.” 

The Vertical has all the features you expect in this class of watch—fitness data, altimeter, barometer, training guidance, sleep tracking and a multitude of sport modes (more than 95!), including backcountry skiing, mountain biking and running. It’ll give you training plans through partner apps, recovery times following workouts and, unsurprisingly, it’ll even tell you the time.

In two places, it stands above other watches, per our tester. “First, the solar charger is incredible,” he said. Suunto says in daily mode the titanium Vertical can go up to a year on a single charge, while the cheaper stainless-steel version ($629) can last up to 60 days. In sport modes, the titanium boasts a Suunto-claimed 85 hours of use on a single charge. “I haven’t had it long enough to test that year claim,” our tester said, “but I didn’t charge it at all in the first month.” 

While solar charging capability is nice, and handy on multiday trips, the navigation features are what set the Vertical apart from other watches. “The mapping and GPS tracking is the easiest I’ve used and helpful from trip planning to backcountry navigation,” he said. In the Suunto smartphone app, users can plan routes, add waypoints like campsites or ski lines, and review slope angle. Maps can be downloaded into the Vertical’s 32 gigabytes of storage and followed offline in the field. “On a long mountain bike ride, the maps were more accurate than Trailforks,” he said. “Even on the tiny watch screen, they’re crisp and easy to follow during off-trail navigation.”

Though one generally buys a GPS watch for performance, our tester was particularly happy with the aesthetics of the Vertical. “The silicone strap is comfy, and the orange Canyon color looks great,” he said. “This is a GPS watch I’ll wear on trail and around town.”

Coros Apex 2

“In the world of oversized, iPhone-priced wrist computers, this little number keeps the features but cuts the size and the price,” a tester said of Coros’s Apex 2. The sapphire glass screen measures 1.2 inches, which our tester found was durable and comfortable on her small wrists while still being easy to read. “The heart rate monitor and GPS function are both accurate within a few beats per minute or vertical feet,” she noted. Additionally, she liked Coro’s training tracking app. “The training load tracking gives me an easy metric to know if I’ve been going too hard, and updates can be installed by simply hitting a button on my phone,” she explained after testing the ski touring, hiking, biking, trail running and gym cardio workout tracking functions. Though she found the dial on the side was easy to spin in gloves, she complained, “The watch sometimes unlocks itself during activity.”

Garmin Fenix 7S

“A Swiss Army knife for your wrist (once you unlock the digital jungle),” our tester said of Garmin’s Fenix 7S (S denotes the smaller size). While this watch can do almost anything (health snapshots, sleep summaries and stocks included), we’re sticking to backcountry applicability. Our tester was impressed with the reliable data points, which include blood oxygen level, VO2 max, heart rate variability, a barometer and very accurate GPS. Plus, he appreciated the cushy capabilities: music downloading (though he noted it drained battery) and a small emergency light, to name a few. His only qualm was with navigation, where “following a route was a bit finicky,” he admitted, after the 7S became confused tracing a route backwards. Still, he was impressed, raving, “Great as a high-end multisport GPS watch, designed for the serious adventurer.”

Polar Vantage V3

“Comfortable and it doesn’t get hung up on my sleeves,” a small-wristed tester said. While ski touring and trail running, she found the GPS tracking to be accurate to the point that she could tell where she’d stopped to step off the trail. “All the pertinent information was easy to read on the home screen,” she added. “The heart rate monitor has a slight lag during HIIT workouts but is otherwise very accurate.” The accuracy is thanks to Polar’s biosensing instruments, which include an optical heart rate and wrist EKG. For those who struggle with motivation, the Vantage V3 provides recommended strength, cardio and recovery workouts. Both fitness stats and things like date, time, weather and music can be navigated through via a touchscreen and five buttons on the side, but our tester noted that Polar’s paired app was “clunky” to navigate.

Wahoo Elemnt

Straightforward at heart, the Wahoo Element sports eight pages—home (time/date, steps, battery and heart rate), audio, workout running time and pace, lap information, lap comparison, elevation and GPS. “If you just want to know how fast and how long you’re moving this watch has you covered,” our tester said. However, if you’re looking to navigate reliably with your wrist in the backcountry, she raised a few concerns. The watch didn’t have the capacity to download routes and, in testing, struggled to connect to GPS, which she thought resulted in inaccurate distance tracking (roughly 0.2 miles off) that consistently occurred. Still, “With a wide face and thick band, I feel snazzy on more casual workouts and have the info I need,” she concluded.

These reviews were originally published in Issue No. 155. To read more, pick up a copy at backcountry, or subscribe to read our gear reviews earlier when they are published in print.

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