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Advanced fitness trackers and watches for running, swimming and exploring

Sophisticated fitness and mapping features from Garmin, Huawei and Suunto for those who are serious about their exercise

If you’re a runner or swimmer looking for a wearable to track your workout and help you up your game,  or simply an intrepid, outdoorsy type looking for a navigational aid, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve rounded up the latest wearables from Garmin, Huawei and Suunto that are packed with sensors and technology for running, swimming and exploring the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for the best money can buy, or you’re on a stricter budget, we’ve got you covered.

If none of these grab your fancy, our pick of Best Buy fitness watches and activity trackers

Outdoor watches for adventurers

Features to look out for:

  • Altimeter Uses barometric pressure or GPS data to tell you how high above sea level you are, so that you can locate yourself on a map.
  • Barometer Picks up changes in atmospheric pressure, helping you predict whether the weather is going to improve or worsen. Some will alert you if there’s a storm coming.
  • Durability An explorer needs a watch that’s built to withstand intensive exercise and the whims of nature – a scratch-proof screen and strong strap, for example.
  • Mapping features Location tracking services such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, a compass and visual maps can all prove useful when exploring unknown terrain. GPS can also make speed, distance and other stats more accurate (but drain the battery faster).
  • Thermometer Can help you plan what to wear. Useful if you’re going on an extended hike, and popping back for more layers isn’t an option.

Garmin Fenix 5s Plus, £700

A chunky watch, available in three sizes: the Fenix 5s Plus, Fenix 5 Plus and Fenix 5X Plus. It’s packed with a huge range of advanced technology, including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, colour maps, a ClimbPro feature for hikers and mountain or hill runners, a built-in heart-rate monitor for helping you pace yourself across the day, accelerometer, altimeter, compass, thermometer and information on your blood oxygen levels in high altitudes (Fenix Plus 5X only).

The Garmin Fenix 5s Plus is also well suited for swimmers, as it detects strokes automatically and measures your pace, calories and SWOLF (swimming efficiency).

Runners will also get plenty of stats, although there are many cheaper options if you mainly train in the park or on the treadmill. 

Read our Garmin Fenix 5s Plus review for the verdict on this feature-packed watch, including whether it’s durable and easy to use. 

Garmin Instinct, £270

 

Made with US military-grade materials for extra toughness, the Garmin Instinct is far more affordable than the Fenix range but still packs a lot in. Features include GPS, GLONASS and Galileo, heart-rate monitoring, an altimeter, elevation map, fitness tracking for a raft of activities including hiking, trail running and skiing, and TracBack for finding your way back to the start of a route.

Read our full first impressions of the Garmin Instinct to see if the savings make sense.

Fitness watches and trackers for swimming

Features to look out for:

  • Waterproof rating Not all wearables can be immersed in water. Some are merely splashproof and/or showerproof, but aren’t designed for swimming. Those that are, aren’t always suitable for deep-water diving. Find out more about water ratings for wearables.
  • Swim mode Even if your watch or tracker can survive a dip, it might not give you swim-specific metrics. This is fine if you just want to keep tabs on your calorie burn, say, but not if you want to improve your performance.
  • Comfort Try it out in the shop if you can, so you can choose one with a comfortable, supple wristband.

Suunto 9, £435

A big, sturdy-looking watch, suitable for the pool or sea, but not for scuba diving or other watersports. It offers swimming metrics such as distance, time, calories, stroke and swimming efficiency. As with many wearables, its optical heart-rate sensor is disabled in swim mode, but Suunto also sells a compatible chest heart-rate monitor.  

Suunto specialises in precision navigation instruments, so this is another device that’s also great for explorers. It has on-device GPS and cool mapping features, including heat maps of popular paths and details of the total distance, ascent and estimated time for your planned route. You can also save ‘memories’ and add descriptions to them – great if you’re a trail runner who wants to remember the location of a beautiful view.

The Suunto 9 is one of the priciest fitness watches you can buy – read our Suunto 9 review to find out if it’s worth it.

Huawei Honor Band 4, £45

A tempting option for swimmers wanting to try a wearable for the first time, the Huawei Honor Band 4 looks like any other cheap fitness band but includes a dedicated swimming mode. It’ll give you details of your stroke count, pace and distance, and you can pre-program drills into it.

It also has a heart-rate monitor, but this feature doesn’t work in swim mode. A word of warning: Huawei says you shouldn’t wear the Honor Band 4 in a hot shower.

Find out what we liked and disliked about it in our full Huawei Honor Band 4 review.

Fitness trackers for running

Features to look out for:

  • Built- in GPS So that you don’t need to take your phone out with you each time you want to track your run.
  • Music storage For listening to power ballads (or whatever inspires you) through Bluetooth headphones. It’s a nice feature to have, but it will bump up the cost. 
  • Running metrics Some trackers offer serious insights such as pace, cadence, elevation, customisable workouts, competitive running against others or yourself and estimations of your recovery time. Some offer indoor modes, too – useful if you’re generally going to be using a treadmill.
  • Screen Choose one that’s easy to read in bright sunlight and not glossy or reflective

Huawei Band 3e, £20

Specialist wearables don’t have to be super-expensive. The Huawei Band 3e is about as cheap a tracker as you’ll get, and it’ll give you in-depth feedback on your running, including your foot strike pattern, average ground contact time and average swing angle. It’ll even suggest ways to improve your posture and positioning, so you can up your performance and avoid injury. You’ll need to pop it out of its silicone wristband and wear it on your shoe to get all this.

It doesn’t have GPS or heart-rate monitoring (and can’t be paired with an external heart-rate monitor), so isn’t ideal for competitive runners training for an event. If you’re a keen but casual runner, though, this might be just what you’re looking for.

Read all about it in our full review of the Huawei Band 3e

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music, £359

A running watch with GPS, a heart-rate monitor and storage for 500 songs. It tracks stats such as ground contact time, balance, stride length, cadence and vertical ratio to help you develop a steady and balanced running style and it will analyse your training status, improvements in training and your recovery time.

You can also see your overall training load – showing how your recent exercise compares with the optimal range for your fitness and training level.

Find out how the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music compares with others in the Forerunner range.

In addition to all of the features listed here, you’ll want your wearable to:

  • Be easy to use, for when your brain is tired from exercise
  • Record your stats accurately
  • Have a nice long battery life so it doesn’t die on you mid workout or excursion. A watch that can’t last more than a day without being charged isn’t going to be much use to you on a multi-day hike (sorry Apple Watch 4).

Our fitness watch and activity tracker reviews reveal all of this information and more, so you can find the perfect watch to help you keep your fitness routine in check.

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