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Best GPS Watches For Snowboarders | Our Top 5 Smartwatches To Wear In The Backcountry

Our pick of the best smartwatches for backcountry adventures, data tracking, and simply keeping tabs on the time

There won’t be too many products in the Whitelines Buyer’s Guide that pique the interests of skiers, but a GPS smartwatch might do the trick. Now, we’re not here to knock down the classic Casio F-91W, it’s as old and reliable as father time itself. But for backcountry enthusiasts (or even just the fitness junkies who want to track their data in the mountains as well as the gym), a GPS wearable is a very worthwhile bit of kit to consider for the season ahead.

At the most rudimentary level, nobody should be venturing out of the resort without keeping track of how much time is left before the heli-pickup, last chair or even the sunset.

“For backcountry enthusiasts, a GPS wearable is a very worthwhile bit of kit to consider for the season ahead”

On a more analytical level, monitoring your active heart rate, step count, or total vertical metres climbed can help you pace yourself in the backcountry more effectively and avoid the sweaty transitions at the top of the skin track or burning out long before you even get there.

Keeping tabs on your location, altitude, heart rate or simply even the time is vital in the backcountry (Pic: Ryan Van Kesteren)

Lastly, but undoubtedly one of the most valuable features of a GPS watch, is the accurate information they provide to your whereabouts. Having a device that helps you to accurately follow a pre-planned route, retrace your steps or – in the worst-case scenario – provides an accurate location of your whereabouts should you need to call for help makes it an accessory with the potential to save lives in the mountains.

Then, of course, there are all the convenient (if not entirely essential) features. These include the likes of on-screen phone notifications, contactless payments, built-in storage for music. And let’s not forget synching your latest tour or workout straight onto Strava for the hollow glory of some Kudos in exchange for the lung-busting, sunrise slog on the local skin track before breakfast. Totally worth it, right?!

“Having a device that helps… provide an accurate location of your whereabouts should you need to call for help is something that has the potential to save lives in the mountains”

In all seriousness, we’re not here to suggest that a smartwatch belongs among the throngs essential backcountry equipment, such as a transceiver, probe, shovel and appropriate hardware and apparel. They’re arguably pretty niche products among the wider snowboard community.

However, for those who like to keep track of useful data, or want the safety net and reassurance of a device that keeps them on track when out in the backcountry, a smartwatch could be a pretty wise purchase for this season.

Top 5 GPS Smartwatches For The Backcountry


Garmin Fenix 6

Price: £529 – £999
Best For: Almost everything but the price! The best data tracking and adventure sports functionality money can buy.

If you’re new to multi-sport adventure smartwatches, starting with Garmin’s Fenix 6 model is essentially cannonballing straight into the deep end of the market. It doesn’t come cheap (prices start at £529 and go right up to £999 depending on the specific model) but, as far as smartwatches go, this is about as good as they come.

Released in August 2019, the 6 is the latest iteration of the immensely popular Fenix series from Garmin. It comes in a few different variations: the 6, the 6Pro and the 6X (although these categories are broken into further subcategories, including the higher-end models with solar power functionality!). Equally popular among backcountry enthusiasts as the fitness data-tracking nerds, this is the watch that has spared no expense on ensuring everything is equipped to the highest standard.

The most important feature on any watch is its battery life. There’s up to 14 days life in smartwatch mode, 36 hour in GPS mode, and an almighty 48 days in battery saver mode. Furthermore, you can switch modes during an activity should you suddenly realise you might be out several hours longer than expected and need to rely on it for finding your way home.

“This is the watch that has spared no expense on ensuring everything is equipped to the highest standard”

It comes with over 2,000 ski maps, pre-loaded in the watch’s storage and a specific backcountry mode that tracks your data on the climb and descent, and distinguishes between the two modes automatically. There’s even a new pacing feature which factors in the slope’s gradient and tells you to slow down (or speed up!)

On top of this, there are all the modern features to rival the best lifestyle smartwatches out there: contactless payment, 2000 song storage capacity, phone notifications, and wifi connectivity (on certain models).

If you’re simply looking for the best, and happy to pay for it, the Garmin Fenix Series provides an answer to the kinds of questions you didn’t even know you’d ask in the backcountry or in your everyday training. A serious bit of kit, right here.

Take a closer look at the Garmin Fenix 6 here

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Honor MagicWatch 2

Price: £150 – £160
Best For: A GPS Smartwatch on a budget with a load of sport and lifestyle features

It’s no secret we’ve been fans of Honor’s MagicWatch 2 for a while now, so it was only right we gave it another mention here (even with the advent of the new GS Pro, see below for more). While it doesn’t boast quite the forensic levels of data tracking or near endless features of the Garmin’s Fenix 6, it does deliver on two things at a very competitive stance: the price and the battery life.

“There’s up to 14 days of battery life on offer here”

There’s up to 14 days of battery life on offer here. Obviously, this will vary if you’re out in colder conditions, using GPS data and regularly checking the screen. But if your less fussed about energy intensive data tracking and prefer to monitor your fitness stats such as heart rate and Sp02 levels, the MagicWatch2 makes a great multi-sports fitness companion.

Where some smartwatches veer more towards the route of facilitating outdoor adventure, the Honor MagicWatch 2 splits its offering between said activities and day-to-day fitness and lifestyle functionality.

It makes full use of GPS and GLONASS, with a variety of sports modes to choose from, but there’s also internal storage with a capacity of up to 500 songs to play through BlueTooth – which can also be used to make and receive calls from.

It makes an excellent watch for someone who’s feeling a little overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of data and features on some of the higher-spec options on the market, but still wants to take full advantage of the convenience and reliability of a GPS sports watch.

Take a closer look at the Honor MagicWatch 2 here

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Honor GS Pro

Price: £250
Best For: Super long-lasting battery life, virtually endless sports modes and incredible value for money.

New for this year is the bigger, beefier and altogether more outdoor focussed big brother of the MagicWatch 2 – the Honor GS Pro. The three things any backcountry enthusiast should prioritise in a GPS smartwatch is durability, battery life and functionality. The GS Pro delivers on all three fronts to outrageously impressive standards.

It’s built with durability in mind. The GS Pro has undergone fourteen military-grade tests to ensure it holds up in the toughest environments. The body is made from reinforced polycarbonate fibre and is extremely hard-wearing, yet it only weighs a featherlight 75 grams.

“Honor claim that the battery life on last up to a mind-blowing 100 hours with GPS mode on – surely enough to see even the most extreme of backcountry adventures through to the end of a multi-day adventure”

Then there’s the battery life. We currently have the GS Pro out on a long term field test (full in-depth review to drop here soon), but Honor claim that the battery life on last up to a mind-blowing 100 hours with GPS mode on – surely enough to see even the most extreme of backcountry adventures through to the end of a multi-day adventure. When you’re not using GPS, the GS Pro is estimated to run for an impressive 25 days on a single charge, blowing just about all the competition clean out of the water.

Compared with the MagicWatch 2, the GS Pro still has all the lifestyle functionality such as built-in storage for music, on-screen phone notifications, weather forecasting and the ability to take calls on the device. There’s also the heart monitor and sleep and stress tracking, something that the fitness data junkies will enjoy sinking their teeth into.

“There’s now a new ‘Route Back’ feature which uses builtin dual satellite navigation to help you retrace your steps, should you hit trouble out in the backcountry”

Where it differs, and where it really steps up is in its sports and adventure offerings. There’s now a new ‘Route Back’ feature which uses built-in dual satellite navigation to help you retrace your steps, should you hit trouble out in the backcountry.

There are also over 100 different sport modes to track and record, including a pretty handy snowsports mode which tracks all the bragging rights you’ll need for around the chalet diner table that evening, including maximum speed, vertical, slope steepness and the number of runs completed.

For a watch to boast as many features like this, with a beautifully vivid colour touchscreen, and still back it up with an extremely long-lasting battery and durable construction will surely have many of the established outdoor adventure watch brands looking on closely.

We’ll be dropping a long term review of the Honor GS Pro here soon, so stay tuned for our in-house verdict on its performance out in the field.

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Suunto 5

Price: £299
Best For: A no-frills, durable, functional and lasting battery life GPS smartwatch from a trusted and leading brand.

If you’re happy to forgo bright, coloured touch screens, internal storage for your favourite tunes and some of the non-essential lifestyle features in favour of a tough, lasting, and extremely reliable GPS adventure sports watch, then the Sunnto 5 may be to your liking. This one is, above all else, is built for the mountains.

A simple 5-button interface means you can continue to change settings or track data in the mountains without having to take your mitts off and, though the screen has some colour grading, isn’t nearly as impressive as the other models featured here. That does save on battery power, though, of which the Suunto 5 claims to have up to 14 days worth of juice, and between 20-40 hours worth in GPS mode depending on the intensity of data tracking you require.

Features-wise the Suunto 5 takes care of business whether you’re splitboarding or training in the summer to get your winter legs ready. There are over 80 different sports modes on here to provide you with the most relevant data and even training plans. This can all be synced with Suunto’s app on your phone if you want to get hyper-pedantic with the data. There’s also an optical heart rate monitor, as well as sleep and stress tracking, too.

“The Suunto 5 claims to have up to 14 days worth of juice, and between 20-40 hours worth in GPS mode depending on the intensity of data tracking you require”

When you’re touring, you can load a pre-planned route into the watch, and follow it back via a breadcrumb trail should you hit danger, and the barometer and GPS software give you accurate readings of your whereabouts at all times.

Of course, there are cheaper options out there; there are far more expensive ones, too. In terms of a GPS wearable that provides you with all the essential features, strips away the unnecessary ones, and delivers it in a bombproof construction that’s still sleek enough to wear every day, the Suunto 5 is hard to beat.

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Suunto 9 Baro

Price: £539
Best For: Intuitive OS and training metrics in Suunto’s most premium adventure GPS smartwatch.

The Suunto 9 Baro represents the flagship model in their range of adventure sports watches and is a true multi-sport champion that’s able to track over 80 activities on top of your backcountry splitboarding missions.

The battery life is certainly Suunto’s main selling feature for the 9. A single charge can last up to 120 hours in the ‘Ultra’ mode, a mode which keeps up GPS tracking but deactivates wrist heart rate tracking. In ‘Endurance’ mode, battery life is 40 hours with full wrist heart rate and GPS tracking.

“Whilst a touchscreen is a nice feature, it’s good to see that Suunto have kept their three classic buttons on the right-hand side of the screen – useful when you’re wearing gloves”

Suunto have fitted the 9 with an optical heart-rate monitor. Although this won’t perform as well as a chest heart rate monitor, it’ll become a great solution for on-the-go heart rate measurements where a chest strap might be a little overkill.

The aesthetic of the watch is predominantly taken up by the large yet sleek colour touchscreen display (320 x 300 mm) which takes up almost the entirety of this watch face. It’s protected by a sapphire crystal, giving it ample protection from all the abuse you’ll inevitably throw its way.

Whilst a touchscreen is a nice feature, it’s good to see that Suunto have kept their three classic buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. These buttons allow you to circumvent the need to use the touchscreen – useful when you’re wearing gloves.

“Suunto 9 Baro represents the flagship model in their range of adventure sports watches and is a true multi-sport champion that’s able to track over 80 activities on top of your backcountry splitboarding missions”

So, you’re using this watch to train for a coming backcountry trip – how do you keep track of your progress? Well, Suunto have made it extremely easy to upload it all wirelessly from your watch to your phone once you’ve paired the two together via Bluetooth.

From Suunto’s own app, or by pairing the watch with Strava, you’re able to view all of your tracked days and compare them to previous weeks to measure how your fitness is improving or simply how much distance you’ve walked over the given period – this of course also includes your backcountry trips.
Just like any other smartwatch on the market, once you’ve paired the watch with your phone it will give you all notifications that usually appear on your phone’s lock screen.

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