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Best Compass Watch: Choosing What You Need for the Outdoors and Beyond

Compass wrist watch
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

Watches that offer a built-in compass are an essential tool for those who have an active lifestyle and spend a lot of time outdoors. Activities such as backpacking, mountain climbing, hiking, running, can often be made more enjoyable by wearing and using the best compass watch.

It’s normal to buy a product once you know its features and how are they useful – and this is important with a compass watch given the high price tag it carries. We don’t expect you to be familiar with this type of gadget, especially if you never used a smartwatch before. Don’t worry too much  because we’ll talk about the most common characteristics as well.

Black watch with straps

The goal of this article is to help you narrow down your options and determine which features you need more  in your future watch. We will also review eight different watches from some of the top manufacturers.

Our Top Picks

ProductPower SourceExtra FunctionsWater ResistancePrice
Garmin Fenix 3 GPSLi-ion batteryWiFi sync, altimeter, barometer, TracBack, Sight’n Go328 feetCheck price on Amazon
Casio Men’s Pro Trek ToughSolar Rechargeable BatteryTide graph, moon data, altimeter, barometer, thermometer656 feetCheck price on Amazon
Garmin Tactix Gps NavigatorLithium-ion batteryAltimeter, GPS, barometer, 3-axis compass164 feetCheck price on Amazon
Casio Men’s MasterSolar Rechargeable BatteryDigital compass, altimeter, LED, four alarms660 feetCheck price on Amazon
Suunto Core User replaceable batteryAltimeter, barometer, storm alarm100 feetCheck price on Amazon
Suunto VectorLi-ion batteryDual time, stopwatch98 feetCheck price on Amazon
Casio Men’s Protrek AviatorSolar powered batteryAltimeter, digital compass, and barometer330 feetCheck price on Amazon
Casio Men’s PathfinderSolar powered batteryAltimeter, thermometer, barometer, 5 daily alarms330 feetCheck price on Amazon

Eight Important Features To Consider In A Compass Watch

Before we get to the reviews, we would like to spend some time explaining the features that are important in a good quality watch. Follow along below as we help give you an idea about what to look for, and you will soon be well on your way to making a purchase you will feel good about.

Features And More Features

These days compass watches come with several features that can be very useful, or just means of spiking the price up if you will never use them. Some of these features include: barometer, altimeter, and thermometer.

  • Barometer: This is used to help you predict the weather. This is useful when you are out in the wilderness and some storm suddenly approaches. Some of these watches even have a storm alarm, which allows you to seek shelter in time.
  • Altimeter: Altimeters let you know how high you are above sea level and make navigation easier. The readings of this feature can be altered by the barometer. Many models will not automatically read either, and you have to input the data manually.
  • Thermometer: Most devices with this function allow the user to set the preferred scale – Celsius or Fahrenheit. The downside of it is that for an accurate reading, you can’t wear your piece as your body’s temperature influences the reading.

Digital compass watch

If you don’t want to catch a cold while hiking, you will want to know hot hot or cold is the air around you. Given your effort, you won’t be able to perceive an accurate temperature.

Durability

It will be difficult to find watches equipped with a compass and other similar features that will not withstand heavy outdoor use or the elements. Make sure the watch you choose has not only a sturdy case, but a similarly designed band as well.

The best devices out there can last decades or daily use and getting only a few and minor scratches.if you want such a watch you should also be prepared to pay the price. Don’t forget about those models that survive free falls from over 10 feet high – we have one in our selection.

Battery Life

Some compass watches are solar powered and therefore regular exposure to the sun will keep the battery at full charge. Others have a battery that needs to be regularly replaced, and sometimes you might need to do so when you most need your watch. If you tend to take long journeys on a regular basis, you will want to be sure that your battery will make it to the end.

Water Resistance

Most all compass watches are designed to resist water, but the degree to which they can do so can vary greatly. Generally, the deeper you can submerge your watch the more expensive it will be. This factor will be especially important for those who enjoy boating or other water sports.

Waterproof watch

What you must pay attention to is to how you replace the battery,  should this be needed. The water resistance is usually determined by a rubber ring on the inner side of the back cover. If this piece is set up incorrectly, water will infiltrate – so it is best to have this done professionally.

Gps Feature

You will find compass watches that come with a GPS installed, or not. What you must know is that if they use solar energy, this function is left out. The gadgets with a GPS seem to use more battery and offer a pretty good solution should you be left with no other navigation system.

As you’ll see from our selected products, some of them will automatically determinate your coordinates, while others will have you input them manually.

Compass Style

Compass watches tend to most often be digital watches. The compass is not the needle style, but rather a digital readout that can be accessed at the press of a button. Not all compass watches are created equal, and some give a more vague readout, while others are more precise down to the exact degrees.

compass_watch light and other functionality

What you must know about this feature is that you will generally have to have it calibrated. Some models will require you to hold your arm a certain way for an accurate reading.

Backlight

A backlight may seem an insignificant characteristic, but it is in fact an important one to consider. Having to check the hour at night or other features, is easier and less disturbing with a backlit watch. This feature can be activated with the press of a button.

Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitors are useful for athletes who want to keep track of their fitness levels. They can also be used by those with heart problems to make sure their heart is performing well without being overly stressed. These can be found only in digital watches, and also tend to be water resistant, since activities that increase heart rate also tend to make the user work up a sweat.

Checking Out The Top Options

You learned a lot about the various feature a watch with a compass may have, so it is time you saw some products. No matter which one will you choose from the following items, you will not be let down.

Garmin Fenix 3 GPS WatchGarmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch

Price: Approx. $450

Weight: 2.88 ounces

Specific features: Advanced fitness metrics, GPS plus ABC

Best use: Cycling, outdoor adventures, fitness training

The Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Watch is a durable GPS watch well suited for a variety of intense sports and adventures. It has settings for fitness, outdoor navigation, and can connect to a platform to customize data, widgets and activity modes.

It is designed to be thin enough not to slow you down during everyday use. Some people have complained that it feels too heavy and it does weigh almost twice as much as some other options with similar features.

The watch has been rated very highly for the accuracy of its GPS, even without using the additional Glonass synchronization feature. It is also easy to adjust even for the smallest of wrists as links can simply be removed to make it smaller. You can do this yourself or ask a jeweler to do it.

One of the complaints regarding this piece was related to the battery status taking too much space in the GPS app. The status appears as a pop-up that occupies more than half of the screen.

PROS:

  • Ski board mode
  • Accurate GPS

CONS:

  • The price

Related: Should you want to replace your watch’s band, have a look at the HWHMH Silicone Bands. There are many colors to choose from, and you also get the screwdriver to aid you.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio Men’s Pro Trek Tough WatchCasio Mens Pro Trek Tough Solar Digital Sport Watch

Price: Approx. $250

Weight: 4 ounces

Specific features: Battery level indicator, power saving function

Best use: Sports, outdoor, sea

The Casio Men’s Pro Trek Tough Watch is eco friendly since it uses solar power to recharge its battery. According to the manufacturer, one full charge will last up to 5 months when used, while the standby mode keeps it alive for some 23 months.

The item also offers easy, one touch access to its altimeter, barometer, compass, and thermometer. To have a good reading of the temperature, you’ll have to remove the watch and wait for some 20 minutes. This problem is seen in all the watches featuring such a function.

You should check out the moon graph and data provide helpful information for sea related activities. However this feature eliminates the one related to the sun setting and rising.

The titanium band has been reported by some users to scratch more easily than expected. Another feature that disappointed some users is the backlight that stays on just for 2 seconds, when they needed it for a little longer.

PROS:

  • Ability to switch between metric and imperial measuring systems

CONS:

  • No GPS

Related: if you’d like to purchase an old fashioned compass the one designed by Silva, the Silva Ranger 515.  It has a classic bezel, lid and mirror and added knurling for easier grip or rotation.

Check the price on Amazon

Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator WatchGarmin Tactix Bravo

Price: Approx. $600

Weight: 3.19 ounces

Specific features: Non reflective design

Best use: Rugged outdoor adventures, fitness training

This Garmin Tactix GPS Navigator Watch is another rugged and durable option that is specially designed to cover a wide range of applications needed for serious outdoor adventures or even military use.

Its GPS is highly sensitive, and it also has an automatically calibrating altimeter, barometer, and 3 axis compass. The GPS function is highly regarded for being accurate and reliable. This watch has also been praised for its intuitive design that is very easy to navigate.

Among some of the more advanced features, it also allows for multiple vibration alarms, which can be very useful for time management. One of the most frequently noted criticisms of this watch is the fact that it must be removed from the wrist for 20 – 30 minutes to give an accurate temperature reading.

Not all watches with a compass also have WiFi connection, bu this one does. Useful when you want to analyze the recorded data, or upgrade the software. Having a compatible smartphone on you also means you can read emails and received text messages.

PROS:

  • WiFi connectivity
  • Very good GPS
  • Included extra band

CONS:

  • The price

Related: Some people get tired easily or need to monitor their heart rate. This is done easier with the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor, that is worn around the chest with great features like wireless capabilities and adjustable sizing.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio Men’s Master WatchCasio Mens GW-9400-1CR Master

Price: Approx. $185

Weight: 10.40 ounces

Features: Multiple displays, digital compass, altimeter, four alarms

Best for: Intense sports and rugged outdoor

This Casio Men’s Master Watch has some notable features including the “triple 10” concept of a 10 meter free fall endurance, 660 feet water resistance, and a 10 year battery life. It is also known as a very reliable and durable instrument.

The sensors for the compass, barometer and altitude are known to be very accurate, although it is a little harder to set the last two. The downside of the sensors is that they’re affected by the weather, and sometimes by the body’s temperature as well – something most similar items are also facing. This product is a larger scale watch, but it is designed in such a way that it fits smaller wrists too without overpowering them.

A common complaint regarding this watch is that the alarm is not loud enough to wake those with a deep sleep. Not everyone is used to the imperial measuring system, or measuring the temperature in Celsius degrees – this watch offers the possibility to set the system you’re more comfortable using.

PROS:

  • Battery life of 7 months on full charge
  • Change between Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature
  • Switch between metric and imperial measure systems

CONS:

  • Alarm is not loud enough
  • The latitude and longitude must be set manually

Related: Assuming you’ll be having an expedition at the South or North pole when it is night, you might want to go as prepared as possible. The CoolFire Solar Watch Charger might be your saviour when needing to re energize your solar powered watch.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Core Watch Suunto Core Wrist-Top Computer Watch

Price: Approx. $200

Weight: 2.3 ounces

Specific features: Weather and sun tracking, dual time, date, alarm

Best use: Sports and outdoor adventures

This Suunto Core Watch is an exceptional timepiece that combines an attractive, sleek design with some important features necessary for the outdoors. These features include an altimeter, barometer, compass and the time the sun sets or rises in 400 worldwide locations. The watch face is very durable and is highly recommended for those features that really do what they claim to do.

People also seem to really appreciate that it offers a multilingual menu. The most important criticism of this watch is that the band itself is more fragile than the watch head. Also, some owners have complained that the battery life is not as good as they would expect, and needs to be replaced up to three times a year even with the more advanced features are not being used.

Speaking of the battery replacement, one needs just a smaller coin to undo the back cover. When closing it, you must pay attention to set the rubber band back on the right way, or the water will infiltrate.

PROS:

  • Multiple time functions
  • Interface in English, German, French and Spanish

CONS:

  • Battery lifespan
  • The price
  • Often recalibration

Related: It might be weird to wear 2 watches at the same time, but it could be useful for your health – but you would need something like the Suunto M2 Heart Rate Monitor for this purpose. You can use it outdoors or in the gym.

Check the price on Amazon

Suunto Vector WatchSuunto Vector Wrist-Top Computer Watch

Price: Approx. $450

Weight: 1.2 ounces

Specific features: Dual time, stopwatch

Best use: Sports and outdoor

This Suunto Vector Watch is another example of a watch that offers many great features at a very reasonable price. It is heavier and larger than some of the other options on the market. The battery generally needs to be replaced at least once a year. The altimeter feature is one of this watch’s strongest features, enabling the wearer to quickly pinpoint their location on a topography map.

The compass feature is also really solid and perhaps one of the best in its class. One of the biggest criticisms of this watch is that some of the features and controls can be more difficult to use, and hard to remember how to use if they are not used frequently.

You might not use all the features at all times, even when hiking, but it is nice to know they’re there. All in all, this watch is a great choice that offers many useful features for a relatively low price.

PROS:

  • The compass feature
  • Lightweight

CONS:

  • The price
  • User replaceable battery

Related: If you need to replace the battery of this product, make sure to get the ones recommended by the manufacturer. The Suunto Battery Kit is something to look into first.

Check the price on Amazon

Casio Men’s Pro Trek Aviator WatchCasio Mens PRG-270B-1CR PRO TREK Aviator Black Watch

Price: Approx. $110

Weight: 2.5 ounces

Specific features: Aviator inspired, world time, 5 daily alarms

Best use: Sports and outdoor

Casio has taken the original technology of the triple sensor and improved it for Casio Men’s Pro Trek Aviator Watch model. The sensors are 95% smaller than in earlier models, so the overall product is far more compact.

Although smaller, these newly redesigned sensors provide even better accuracy in reading and are also more energy efficient. The reading they offer include altitude, barometric pressure, and direction that are for more accurate than the earlier models.

It also features an alarm to alert the user of sudden changes in air pressure.  The nylon band is a special “Cordura” blend that is durable and designed to fit well and to perform outdoors. For the most part, this watch is highly praised and well regarded for its quality, attention to detail, and accuracy.

One of the only complaints about this model is that it is very sensitive to body temperature, and for that reason, users suggest to calibrate the altimeter and barometer while the watch is being worn, since temperature affects those readings.

PROS:

  • Uses solar energy
  • Water resistant

CONS:

  • Must set up your location and hour before any other function
  • Body temperature can influence other readings

Related: The Casio Atomic Watch is still a man’s but it looks smaller and more compact than other models, and could be worn by the ladies as well

Check the price on Amazon

Casio Men’s Pathfinder WatchCasio Mens PAG240-1CR Pathfinder

Price: Approx. $150

Weight: 2.12 ounces

Specific features: Solar powered, city code display

Best use: Sports and outdoor

The Casio Men’s Pathfinder Watch offers many essential functions for outdoor use, and does so  in style. It is sturdy, uses solar energy, and can show a wide range of information you’d need when hiking. This includes the altitude, humidity, the hour on the globe, temperature, and the energy left in the battery.

Speaking of the battery’s life span, a single charge is supposed to last up to 6 months. If you’re going to use it during the warmer months, chances are it will be exposed to the sun anyways, and have a full battery almost all the time. You should know that the lowest temperature it stands is -10 C or 14 F.

It also offers a backlight with afterglow that is really easy on the eyes, and comes in handy for night hiking. Don’t be too scared to go swimming while wearing this watch: you can submerge it up to 330 feet. The compass should be adjusted magnetic declination and then calibrated. This is done by keeping bidirectional and northerly in mind.

PROS:

  • Many functions
  • Uses solar energy
  • Water resistant

CONS:

  • Not the best altimeter- altitude indicator
  • Short of GPS

Related: While the wristband is of good quality, you might find yourself wanting to change it. You should get one specifically designed for this watch model, like the Band For Pathfinder.

Check the price on Amazon

Wrapping it Up

As you can see from reading this article, not all compass watches are created equal. In this article we explained what features to look for in such a product, as well as showing you our top picks.

Perhaps getting a watch with a compass is not on your shopping list, however you can’t deny its usefulness. Furthermore, such an item is useful simply for its compactness and allowing you to carry 2 items at once, without worrying about losing either one, or extra bulk in your pockets.

Digital watch with compass

We would love to hear about the reasons why you are in the market for a compass watch!  Which features matter most to you, and which ones would you never use?  If you have used a compass watch before, did it greatly improve your outdoor lifestyle?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Dane Mills

    The Garmin Tactix became my favorite from the list! It’s already a three in one (FitBit + smart watch + GPS). If I buy it, I’ll be sure to discover more of what the device can offer. It’s amazing that it does a lot and how accurate it is.

  • Anne Fisher

    I am able to personalize the setup of the Garmin Fenix 3. Size of your wrist does not matter because it can be adjusted accordingly. It’s large but light. Excellent looks too. It is the best looking smart watch I have seen. I’m satisfied with how I use it for what I need now but not so much with some connectivity issues. Its best features are its fitting, looks and being customizable.

  • Bradley Page

    My cousin has the Garmin Tactix and he is pleased with it. He counts his purchase as one of the most important thing he ever did. He absolutely loved its features and the price is just right.

  • Bradley Page

    Like all products, it has a number or cons, but with this watch, its overall stellar performance makes up for it. I also love the accuracy and no-nonsense, streamlined look of this baby!

  • Christi Bell

    I bought my husband the Garmin Tactix Bravo for his birthday a year ago. What I (and now, he!) loves about it is that it is so much more than a compass watch! It’s an activity tracker, smart watch, and GPS all rolled into one.

  • Bradley Page

    I find the Garmin a very reliable and high-quality brand, too Christi. I have that watch and it’s amazing how it can accurately gauge my activity level, plus it’s an excellent GPS tracker, too.
    Great value for the money, I should say. 🙂

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