Fitness watches have come a long way since your old start-and-stop Timex.
Today, GPS functionality is a starting point — the most basic technology for tracking your runs, swims, and hikes, gathering metrics about your workouts, and sharing them to sites like Strava. Depending on how you’re using your watch, additional features like extended battery life, solar charging, built-in music storage and Bluetooth, heart rate monitoring, stress tracking, not to mention style, can all be important to turning your watch into a do-it-all fitness hub and training partner.
With features this diverse, choosing the right watch for your loved one is no small task. Start by thinking about what they would want to do with a fitness watch. Are they outdoorsy hikers and backpackers? The occasional runner? Or a big-time triathlete? No matter the genre of adventure, there’s a watch to match.
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The biggest concern for the backpacker or hiker who wants to track their adventures is whether the battery will last. An advanced battery manager in the Instinct lets you pick and choose the features you want to power vs. turn off, allowing you to record between 30 hours in full GPS mode to 28 days of light GPS activity in “Expedition Mode.” Boost that even more with a screen that doubles as a solar panel and your loved one can literally track months of activity while leaving the charging cable at home.
For less than $200, the Pace 2 is a surprisingly fully-featured watch that simply does everything well. Weeks of daily-use battery life (heart rate and sleep tracking, phone notifications, step counting, and more) paired with 30 hours of full-GPS tracking means you can set it and forget it, and a super simple two-button user experience means they’ll spend less time fiddling with the watch before runs and more time doing what they got it to do.
Way more than just a fitness watch, the Series 7 is nearly a mini iPhone for your wrist. But it’s also a more-than-capable training aid. Alongside GPS, track your heart rate, measure your blood oxygen levels (great if you’re training at altitude) and more. Plus, connect it to Apple Music and continue listening to tunes on your run without carrying a phone in your pocket. And while the battery life doesn’t quite match up to more running-specific watches, the newest model recharges 33% faster than the last, making a quick top-off before your jog easy.
The Whoop Strap is just that—a strap, not a watch. There’s no screen, no built-in music, no turn-by-turn mapping for your next jog. Instead, the Strap continuously tracks your heart rate, movement data, sleep information, and a lot more to compile a more holistic (versus just examining yourself workout by workout) view of your activity strain, recovery, and sleep health. Frankly, that makes it less useful if working out isn’t a major piece of your life, but for the big time athletes, it does a unique job of analyzing the big picture. Whoop also runs off a subscription model, rather than a one-time purchase.
When simplicity is the name of the game, few do it as well as one of the OG fitness tracker brands: Fitbit. Starting with basic activity tracking like heart rate, step counting, and sleep tracking for everyday users, the Charge 4 adds on more premium features like GPS activity tracking, oxygen saturation, Spotify control, stress management, and more, all in a uniquely minimal, comfortable package. Ding: For some of the more advanced insights, you’ll need to sign up for the $9.99/month Fitbit Premium.
Watch. Altimeter. Barometer. Compass. And that’s about it. If you’re an outdoor adventurer who isn’t interested in actually tracking their activities, the functionality of the Core is hard to beat on the trail. That simplicity means it does things like telling you your elevation or warning you of an incoming storm (via the barometer) better than almost any other fancier watch. It takes a regular battery (that lasts a full year) and is nearly indestructible.