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Best smartwatches and fitness trackers for outdoor sports this summer

Discover the best wearables and most important features to help you make the most of the great outdoors

Best smartwatches and fitness trackers for outdoor sports this summer

Gyms are great in winter, but outdoor exercise is free, gives you fresh air and vitamin D and can even lift your mood and reduce stress.

If you’re looking for a bit of extra motivation to stick to that summer fitness routine, a fitness tracker or a smartwatch can help.

We run through the key features and models that will help you find your ideal health and fitness companion this summer.

Just want to know which models are Best Buys? Jump to our list of best fitness trackers and watches.

Key features for outdoors workouts

Features vary significantly across different makes and models of trackers and watches. Consider how important each of the following is to your routine.

  • A great screen that’s glare-free in the sunshine and scratch-resistant.
  • GPS for mapping your route without your phone.
  • Sports tracking: we’re seeing more and more wearables that can track hundreds of activities. Bear in mind that you’ll often get fairly basic stats from these sports modes, but that’s fine if all you want to do is, say, keep tabs on your calorie burn.
  • Detailed metrics: if you’re a dedicated athlete, you’ll want a wearable that analyses your technique and gives you in-depth feedback to help you improve.
  • Music storage for phone-free listening to your favourite tunes.
  • Weather updates so you don’t get caught out by a thunderstorm.
  • NFC for contactless payments: useful if you’re out without your wallet and need to buy a bottle of water. Check your bank is compatible.

Smartwatches and fitness trackers with great screens

A good quality screen is crucial on a smartwatch or fitness tracker, for obvious reasons.

Choose one that doesn’t get scratched easily, and isn’t too glossy or reflective to read comfortably when the sun comes out.

We test all our wearables for both those things, and in our reviews we say when we find one that’s particularly good or bad.

The Huawei Band 3 Pro (£60), pictured above, fared well here. It has an AMOLED colour touchscreen that’s small but easy to read in bright sunshine. You can adjust the brightness easily from the watch if you need to up the brightness without reaching for your phone.

Its screen is also very scratch-resistant, so you shouldn’t need to worry about damaging it w

If you can increase your budget, the Huawei Watch GT (above) also has an impressive touchscreen: it’s high resolution with scratch-resistant glass and is easy to read in both bright and low light. As with the Huawei Band 3 Pro, you can adjust the brightness from the watch itself.

Smartwatches and trackers with GPS and running metrics

A tracker or watch with integrated GPS will save you having to take your phone out with you when you go running. Some are more accurate than others, and we see wild differences in our testing.

If you’re a devoted runner or training up for an event, advanced running metrics can really help you hone your technique. The Garmin Forerunner 645 (£304), above, is absolutely packed with sensors.

As well as the standard data – such as GPS, heart rate, calories and distance – you’ll get details of your ground contact time, balance, stride length, cadence, vertical ratio, training status and recovery time. Read our Garmin Forerunner 645 review to find out whether it impressed us all round.

If you’re a keen runner who doesn’t have £300+ to blow on a smartwatch, the Huawei Band 3e (£20), above, certainly talks a good game as a running aid.

In Footwear Mode (for which you’ll need to take it out of its wristband and wear it on your shoe) you’ll get a surprisingly impressive range of running data: foot strike pattern, average ground contact time, average swing angle and suggestions on posture and positioning to improve your performance and avoid injury, for example.

It doesn’t have GPS or heart-rate monitoring, though, which is a shame. It’s better suited to enthusiastic beginners than runners at competitive level.

Smartwatches for golf and other outdoors sports

More and more wearables are now able to track a dizzying array of sports, including fun summery sports such as paddleboarding, beach volleyball, canoeing, fishing, tennis and golf.

Again, the data you get tends to lack much depth but there are watches designed specifically for certain sports.

The Garmin Approach S60 (£300), above, is a golfing watch that acts like a digital caddie.

It has useful features such as built-in GPS, AutoShot game tracking for recording shot distance and location along the fairway, and more than 40,000 preloaded courses. It shows yardages to greens, hazards and doglegs.

And you can use the app to challenge other players to competitions or see how you fare on a leaderboard.

Find out how to buy the best golf watch in our dedicated buying guide.

Smartwatches for music

Music is great for motivating you to get moving and helping you keep a steady pace.

When you’re at the gym, there will undoubtedly be music blaring over the speaker system, and – whether or not it’s music you enjoy – it can help you to focus on your activity .

If that’s something you miss when exercising outside, go for a watch that has a decent amount of internal storage and the ability to let you copy over your music, or one that supports streaming services that you can download from directly. This means you won’t need to carry your phone around when you’re out running.

The Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music (£200), below, is a good example. You can use it to stream songs from Spotify, Deezer and iHeartRadio. It also has 4GB storage for up to 500 audio tracks, for listening to music or podcasts offline.

It has plenty of other features that are handy for exercising outdoors too: a range of smart notifications, GPS, Garmin Pay for contactless payments, calendar and weather updates and the ability to track a wide range of sports, including golf, climbing, paddleboarding and outdoors (as well as indoors) running, cycling and walking.

There’s also the option to create a custom workout by selecting the closest exercise and tweaking some of the data.

It’s nice and lightweight, so won’t weigh you down either.

There’s also a musicless version, the Garmin Vivoactive 3, which is cheaper, or you can browse all our reviews of smartwatches with music control.

Need a set of wireless headphones to pair with your watch? We’ve rounded up the best headphones for running – and those that will be more of a hindrance than a help.

More tips for exercising outdoors in summer

Stay safe in the sun and don’t overexert yourself.

Lather on a Which? Best Buy sunscreen, grab a bottle of water and plan your route so it includes some cooling tree cover, or takes you past a lake or river, where the air will feel breezier.

Try to run at the start or end of the day, when the mercury will be lower.

Take your workout back indoors to an air-conditioned gym (or just hang up your running shoes and enjoy a delicious Which? Best Buy summer wine) if the heat gets scorching.

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